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Blog // Sounds
November 13, 2007

Lee Ritenour

Sunday night we had the chance to see Lee Ritenour live in concert (from excellent third row, centre stage, seats) and the show did not fail to impress. Lee is a monster player who, unlike some Jazz guitar greats from the 80s, has not failed to keep his sound and musical influences fresh. He was […]

Sunday night we had the chance to see Lee Ritenour live in concert (from excellent third row, centre stage, seats) and the show did not fail to impress. Lee is a monster player who, unlike some Jazz guitar greats from the 80s, has not failed to keep his sound and musical influences fresh. He was joined on stage by the awesome Melvin Lee Davis on Bass, Barnaby Finch on Keys and JJ Williams on Drums. Williams was a new face, apparently on his first gig with Ritenour and he laid down some serious rhythms all night, with a wonderful balance of power and control. Finch was restrained when called for and harmonically adventurous when it was need and saved his best playing for the more latin-grooved numbers. Davis is a long-time Ritenour collaborator (and one of my all-time favourite bass players) and their understanding showed time and time again in both the improvisations as well as the call and response moments. It was a joy to watch.

One thing that has impressed me over the years about Lee Ritenour is how he has managed to keep his sound and style fresh and up-to-date. Whilst I was never a fan of his Synth-Axe experiments in the 80s (OK, I hated them), I did get deep into his 1990 release, Stolen Moments. In recent years (and most noticeably on the studio/live CD/DVD project Overtime) Ritenour has blown me away not just with great phrasing and lines, but also through his commanding and original tone. At times Raw, at times highly effected his sound displays a great balance between warm amplifier tones, natural guitar sounds and seriously funky effects processing. It’s great to watch a guy who can play smooth and can also dig in and play dirty.

The Hong Kong concert showcased all these elements as Ritenour swapped between his customised Gibson L5 (floating pickup), Red Gibson 335 and Yamaha Silent Classical. His use of the Classical is particularly interesting, as the design of that guitar allows him to play through conventional effects and guitar amps. A lightly overdriven and wah-ing nylon-strung is a refreshing take on the jazz sound.

The repertoire was drawn mostly from the new album Smoke and Mirrors (a contender for top 5 albums of the year for me) and the 1993 tribute to Wes Montgomery, Wes Bound. In between there was a wide range of styles on show and Ritenour even joked about playing, “…pop jazz, blues jazz, funk jazz, rock and roll jazz…” Truth is, there’s a time to pile on the academic arguments about “what is jazz” and there’s a time to sit back, smile and groove along.

Sunday night’s gig was all about groove and good times Here’s hoping Ritenour is back in Hong Kong soon!

[tags] Lee Ritenour [/tags]

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