Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lee Ritenour | Smoke N' Mirrors

True to its intriguing and provocative title, Lee Ritenour's latest CD Smoke N' Mirrors takes listeners on a magical, multi-faceted global journey unlike any other in the legendary guitarist's three decade, nearly 40 album career. Inspired by his very first trip to South Africa in 2005, where he performed five hugely successful concerts at festivals in Johannesburg and Capetown, with Smoke N' Mirrors, Ritenour takes an expansive, polyrhythmic approach, working with musicians from South Africa, Cameroon-West Africa, Brazil, Columbia, Peru and India. Also joining him on this recording is an exciting mix of old friends who happen to be some of America's top jazz performers. Among those featured are pianists Dave Grusin and Patrice Rushen; drummer Vinnie Colaiuta; along with bassists John Patitiucci, Brian Bromberg, Abraham Laboriel and Richard Bona. There are eight percussionists on the record including Sheila E., Alex Acuna and Paulinho Da Costa and on tables is Satnam Ramgotra from India. Ever the innovator, Ritenour employs a total of 12 guitars, his most ever, to achieve what can only be described as sonic perfection. These include the Gibson Lee Ritenour Model and a wide variety of baritone, steel and high string guitars.

Smoke N' Mirrors also marks the American recording debut of South African singing sensation Zamajobe on three songs as well as the composing and recording debut of Ritenour's thirteen- year-old son Wesley, a highly talented drummer. Wes adds brushes to Zamajobe's original song, the exotic call and response anthem "Memeza," and also composed the graceful melody of the soulful and atmospheric "Stone Cool."

"The concept for the album came from a lot of different sources, all of which coalesced with my trip to South Africa," Ritenour says. "I'd been getting letters for years asking me to come and perform there. I did a lot of touring throughout the U.S., Asia and Europe during 2005, and everything timed nicely for me to play in Capetown and Johannesburg in late August after my Western European dates. While the festivals there included some American acts, I was more excited by the native African players and some of the most intoxicating percussion and rhythm guitar playing I'd ever heard. Over the years, I have become more and more attracted to African music, and this trip solidified that connection for me."

Ritenour's title Smoke N' Mirrors has a subtle political connotation, but on the creative side, it refers to some incredibly magical, serendipitous moments that occurred during the conception and recording process. The guitarist "discovered" the singer Zamajobe - a recent South African New Artist of the Year winner who had just released her hit debut album in that country--one restless night while watching TV in Capetown,. He saw several of her videos on South Africa's version of MTV and loved her voice, especially the difference when she sang English (with almost a Sade like quality) to when she performed in her native African language. Back in L.A., Rit contacted her label Sony BMG and soon was talking via email and phone to her guitar player and producer Eric Pilani. Through the magic of high speed internet and back and forth MP3 files, Rit was able to get her sensuous vocals on an Africanized version of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" and an old school soul jazz take on Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots" (which also features Rushen on vocals, Fender Rhodes and organ). Smoke N' Mirrors also features Zamajobe's original song "Memeza," a shorter version of which appeared on her own album.

Another unexpected hookup happened with singer/songwriter Daniel Jobim, grandson of Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim, whom Ritenour hadn't seen to in years. Rit had been looking for an original, authentic Brazilian tune for the project when he ran into Jobim by chance in L.A. The multi-talented performer sent Rit an MP3 file of the ultra-romantic "Blue Days (Dias Azuis"). Lee loved the tune and kept Jobim's original lead vocal on the final track. The song also includes additional lead vocals by Brazilian singing sensation Joyce, Rit on acoustic guitar, Grusin on piano, Patitucci on acoustic bass and Danilo Caymmi's tender flute. Other key tracks on the CD include: the hypnotic title track; a revisit of Grusin's Brazilian flavored 1989 song "Southwest Passage;" the spirited, guitar-driven songs "Capetown" and the "Township," "Water's Edge," which displays Ritenour's genius for masterful fingerstyling; "Spellbinder," featuring Bromberg's grooving bass and Indian born tabla master Satnam Ramgotra; and the electric rock-flavored "Motherland."

Growing up in L.A. in the 60's, Ritenour received a rich cross section of exposure to jazz, rock and Brazilian music - with artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendes and Stan Getz, who helped introduce Brazilian music to the masses. Highlighting his eclectic and storied career is a rich history in the Brazilian realm which includes a Grammy win for Harlequin, his 1986 collaboration with Grusin (also voted by Jazziz Magazine as one of the Top Ten contemporary jazz albums of all time), producing the 1997 all-star project A Twist of Jobim, and the memorial tribute concert to Antonio Carlos Jobim at Lincoln Center, starring Sting, Herbie Hancock, Joao Gilberto and Caetano Veloso., among others.

Along with his emergence as a solo artist with his Epic albums First Course and Captain Fingers in the mid 70s, Ritenour's sideman days are the stuff of musical industry lore. His nearly 2,000 recordings include artists ranging from Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan to Herbie Hancock and Pink Floyd's The Wall. It was during that time he began his longtime association with Dave Grusin on soundtracks and other recordings, which reached a crescendo on Harlequin. In addition to the Grammy win for Harlequin, he has earned 17 Grammy nominations, numerous #1 spots in guitar polls and the prestigious "Alumnus of the Year" award from USC. Since the 70s, he has also been a huge presence in radio. In 1981, he scored the Top 15 hit "Is It You," featuring vocalist Eric Tagg, which has become a smooth jazz radio classic. His singles "Water to Drink" from 1997's Twist of Jobim and "Get Up Stand Up," from 2001's A Twist of Marley were both named #1 Radio and Records NAC airplay singles of their respective years.

In the 90s, he was a founding member of Fourplay, the most successful band in contemporary jazz, with keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason. The first Fourplay album in 1991 spent an unprecedented 33 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. In addition to producing his own recordings, Ritenour has produced the three highly successful Twist Of projects along with such artists as Eric Marienthal, Phil Perry and Vesta, which were released on his i.e. music label.

"While I have loved working on every album I've done throughout my career," he says, "there were all these magical things that happened along the way on Smoke N' Mirrors. Because of its scope, all of the musicians involved in the process, and the many guitar textures I chose to incorporate, the project took a total of eight months to complete. I was excited every step of the way by each aspect of the creative process, from composing and arranging, to recording and mixing. After producing well over 30 albums, I can tell when I'm onto something that will have enduring value and I can honestly say that on every level, Smoke N' Mirrors has been an extraordinary experience!

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