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Lee Ritenour : Rit’s House
Creatively, Lee Ritenour has had his ups and downs over the years. Many of the guitarist's commercial pop-jazz efforts have wasted his skills as an improviser; when Ritenour is catering to NAC/smooth jazz radio, improvisation is the usually the first thing to go. But when Ritenour does have a chance to stretch out, he can be an appealing improviser. Although quite accessible, "Rit's House" is among his more memorable and substantial efforts. This 2002 release has a soul-jazz/post-bop outlook that often recalls the late '60s and early '70s; for the most part, it is the sort of album that guitarist Grant Green would have been comfortable recording during that era.
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Madeleine Peyroux : The Blue Room
On "The Blue Room", her second Decca recording, Madeleine Peyroux and producer Larry Klein re-examine the influence of Ray Charles' revolutionary 1962 date, "Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music". They don't try to re-create the album, but remake some of its songs and include others by composers whose work would benefit from the genre-blurring treatment Charles pioneered. Bassist David Pilch, drummer Jay Bellerose, guitarist Dean Parks, and pianist/organist Larry Goldings are the perfect collaborators. Most these ten tracks feature string arrangements by Vince Mendoza. Five tunes here are reinterpretations of Charles' from MSICAWM. "Take These Chains" commences as a sultry jazz tune, and in Peyroux's vocal, there is no supplication -- only a demand.
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Renee Fleming : Dark Hope
It’s fitting that Renée Fleming, 'the people’s diva', would make an album of pop songs that feels more like a labor of love than a crossover attempt. "Dark Hope" is filled with songs and arrangements that wouldn’t appear on a typical attempt to bring a classical vocalist into the mainstream -- witness her dark, intricate take on the Mars Volta’s “With Twilight as My Guide”. It should almost go without saying that Fleming's voice is just as remarkable here as it is in her usual milieu, but the album proves time and again that she is game for just about anything.