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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Lee Ritenour

lee ritenourSmitty:  My next guest is one of the monster guitarists in the format and I always enjoy his music.  He’s a cat whose music seems to always have a very cool twist and his latest project is no exception.  It’s called Smoke n’ Mirrors and that’s gotta grab ya real tight.  Please welcome the amazing and talented Mr. Lee Ritenour.  Lee, how ya doin’?

Lee Ritenour (LR):  Just fine. Glad to be speaking with you.

Smitty:  Yeah, absolutely, man same here.  Now, this is such an international record.  I mean, you’ve got such a groove here and some wonderful players. This is 14 great tracks from start to finish. I love this record.

LR:  Thanks.  Thank you.  It was definitely a labor of love. I’ve done a lot of albums and I kinda know when I’m onto something that was inspirational for me to record and create, and this was one of those projects where I really enjoyed making the album.

Smitty: This is somewhat of a journey because you were inspired to do this record while you were on tour. Talk a little bit about that whole initial inspiration to do this record.

LR:  Well, Smoke n’ Mirrors has very much a world music flavor and it doesn’t park itself in one country. It borrows heavily from the Brazilian angle, which is dear to my heart, and I recorded several albums with that flavor. Probably even more so than the Brazilian flavor, there’s an African, South African and West African influence and on a couple of other tracks there’s some Latin flavor and there’s some Indian tables on one track, all centered around my jazz guitar and acoustic guitars, and very much a Lee Ritenour sound.  But last year I traveled quite a bit. I guess I did around 75 shows, which is a little more than I normally do, and I traveled to some interesting places, including Johannesburg and Capetown and was in Europe for about a month, all over Western Europe, and Japan is a usual stop and The States. So I played for a lot of different kinds of fans and just these flavors that I kept hearing and being inspired by from around the world helped sort of inspire the record.

Smitty: And you could just feel that whole world flair in there.  From the beginning, with the title track, a great track, and I must say I really enjoyed Richard Bona’s bass playing in there.

LR: Oh yes.

Smitty:  That was…oh, what a talent.

LR:  He’s just an amazing bassist and singer as well. I don’t really use him too much on the vocal aspect, although he does some vocalizing on a bass solo towards the end of the album, but he’s just this very magical bassist from Cameroon, West Africa.

Smitty:  Yes.  Now, you did, what, 75 shows last year on tour?

LR: Yes.

Smitty:  Now, talk about some of the special moments because you had to have had some special moments in all of these various countries, and just talk a little bit how the music was received.

LR:  Well, I’ve been to Europe, but I’ve been to Japan maybe 80 times. That’s a huge market for me and I have a lot of great friends from that area. But the first time, it was last year when I appeared in South Africa, and I had gotten quite a bit of fan mail saying “Why don’t you come?  Why don’t you come?”  And I had never been able to make it down and finally I did come to do about four or five shows in Capetown and Johannesburg, and what was amazing about it was when we’d start to play….because I didn’t carry a vocalist with me on that trip, it was an instrumental group….but all the fans were singing these melodies from my tunes and that’s how well they knew the songs and it’s such a musical fan base down there. They just love music, they know music, and they just wouldn’t sit still and it was very inspirational for me.

Smitty:  Wow, don’t you just love that.  That’s gotta be a sweet feeling, man, when you travel that far and they know your songs, you know?

LR:  Absolutely, I’ve never been there before, so it was just great….because you never know what to expect when you go to a new country.

Smitty:  Yeah.  Oh, how sweet is that?  And what was it like working with some of the musicians there because you played with some of the musicians there in South Africa too, right?

LR:  Yes, when I was actually down there, there was a bit of a jamming going on because there was a couple of jazz-type festivals where they had African groups, and backstage before the actual shows went on was when some of the best grooves were taking place with us doing some impromptu jamming, and I think that gave me the confidence to delve into a little bit of the African influence that I used on the record because I had spent years sort of cultivating the Brazilian sound and understanding that genre of music and spending years going back and forth from Brazil. But even though I loved African music in general and was listening to a lot of  different of artists from there, I didn’t feel confident that I could be genuine in representing the style for that country, but once I started jamming and saw the rhythmic basses, and since I’m such a rhythm-oriented guitarist, I found my connection and I was able to take that and run with it, so it was very inspirational.  And when I was down there I heard a female singer named Zamajobe and this was quite an interesting story.  I couldn’t sleep one night because of the incredible jet lag and I turned on the TV at four in the morning or something and saw four videos by this young lady.
They were featuring her late at night on the MTV down there. And she’s 21 years old and she was the new artist of the year down there and had a big hit record, and I didn’t meet her when I was there, I just immediately wrote down her name because I was really impressed with her singing and her whole style that was combining English and African-influenced flavors.  So when I came back and started working on the album, I got in touch with her and her record company and her producer, and we ended up sending tracks to each other over the Internet and we worked together and she sang on several songs on the record.

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