Founded and creatively driven by the ever-evolving musical vision of guitarist/composer Russ Freeman, The Rippingtons have seen many personnel changes since the release of their debut album Moonlighting in 1986, at the dawn of the format that became known as smooth jazz. Freeman’s incredible melodies and acoustic and electric playing, however, have been among the most consistently
appealing mainstays in the genre’s rich history, meaning that fans can always count on the latest Rippingtons project to be a winner. Their latest disc, Modern Art, is no exception, and—as if there could be any doubt--truly lives up to its name.
The Rippingtons spent the summer of 2006 and much of the past two years celebrating that past and toasting the future with what Freeman jokingly calls “the longest and greatest 20th Anniversary tour in history.” They embarked on the extended journey upon the release of The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary, the remarkable 2006 CD/DVD package featuring a retrospective DVD, new music and a medley of their most popular airplay hits since the release of their debut album Moonlighting in 1986. While the demand for more shows meant that Ripps enthusiasts had to wait longer than usual (two and a half years) for the band’s follow-up, the extra time and ongoing slate of live concerts allowed
Freeman and his explosive new lineup (including powerful new bassist Rico Belled and special guest, returning saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa) the extraordinary opportunity to work out the new material on Modern Art and let the songs evolve in front of the audiences’ eyes. A key element making Modern Art truly worth a trip to the “Ripps Museum” is Freeman’s further development and rich creative partnership and recent marriage to the multi-talented songwriter Yaredt Leon, who co-wrote four songs on The Rippingtons’ 2005 Latin themed excursion Wild Card. On the new album, Freeman and Leon, who has scored Top 40 hits for Mexican artists like Jenny Rivera, co-wrote the exotically romantic “Pastels on Canvas” and the sensual, blues-punched ballad, “I Still Believe,” which is driven by Kashiwa’s simmering horn and Bill Heller’s brooding Hammond B-3. Leon has sole writing credit on the graceful, tropical flavored charmer “Sweet Lullaby.”
After launching the collection with the funky and swinging, brass-enhanced title track, Freeman—who does more lead acoustic guitar than on any previous Ripps project—breaks new stylistic ground, incorporating exotic world music elements on the sensuously romantic, acoustic guitar driven “Paris Groove” (featuring Heller’s lush accordion solo) and adding an Eastern authenticity to the hypnotic “Black Book” with an electric sitar. With the sizzling interaction between Freeman’s slow burning electric guitar and Kashiwa’s wild sax improvisations, the easy grooving “One Step Closer” and jamming, bluesy “Body Art” will remind longtime fans of the band’s glory days of the 90s—but with a souped up twist! Even as they strut along with the classic Ripps sound, “Age of Reason” and “Jet Set” expand the group into edgier territory. The first is a fiery, hook filled anthem and the second floats an elegant jazzy melody over Rico Belled’s throbbing bass and Dave Karasony’s relentless blues/rock foundation on drums. Modern Art closes gently, with special guest artist Rick Braun adding his always seductive muted trumpet magic to the beautiful melody of “Love Story.”
One of the most fun-filled parts of the journey The Ripps have taken their fans on has been Freeman’s unique way of opening them up to his extra musical passions on their albums; over the years, titles have reflected his love for skiing, the Southwest, his life in Colorado, his move to South Florida (cue those Latin rhythms), and golf. Now he’s all about Modern Art and having a blast. You will, too!