He’s been a presence in contemporary jazz for more than two decades and nominated for seventeen Grammy awards. Guitarist Lee Ritenour still has stories to tell. The concept for his new release, Smoke N’ Mirrors, came from different sources, notably his first trip to South Africa last year. The new recording has a definite world influence. Ritenour brought in a number of musicians to help him achieve his vision: eight percussionists, South African singer Zamajobe, Daniel Jobim (grandson of Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim), his thirteen year old son, Wesley, and old friends like Dave Grusin, John Patitucci, Vinnie Colaiuta, Abraham Laboriel, Richard Bona, and Patrice Rushen. He also plays twelve different guitars. As you would expect from the personnel, the performances are top-notch and Rit’s playing is fluid. If you haven’t checked out Captain Fingers in a while, Smoke N’ Mirrors is a good one to pick up.
A scenario I’d like to see at the 2004 Grammy Awards ceremony: The Grammy returns to honoring jazz during its primetime special. Some of modern jazz’s best known bassists are playing a tribute to Jaco Pastorius. After thunderous applause, the award for Best Large Ensemble Album is announced. The winner: The Jaco Pastorius Big Band – Word of Mouth Revisited.
Word of Mouth Revisited covers Jaco’s compositions from his early days with conductor/arranger Peter Graves’ orchestra to his work with Weather Report and Word of Mouth. There’s an unreleased bass recording of Jaco himself on one of his favorite Herbie Hancock compositions “Wiggle Waggle.” It was recorded in the late 70s and the current Jaco Big Band plays the rest of the parts. This fourteen-piece big band is tight. I can’t say enough about the crispness of their sound. It’s easily the best big band I’ve heard in some time. The thirteen arrangements – by Graves (who hired Jaco in 1971 for his orchestra), Larry Warrilow (Jaco?s longtime friend and collaborator), and Jaco are excellent.
Then there is the who’s who of bass players: Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Jimmy Haslip, Victor Wooten, Victor Bailey, Gerald Veasley, Richard Bona, and Jaco’s nephew, David Pastorius all contribute to this recording. It goes without saying that the rhythm on this CD is unbelievable. The bassists obviously seem inspired and actually seem to exceed their already formidable skills. Drummer Mark Griffith deserves special recognition for his excellent work on driving the tempo. Griffith is a standout on a CD where every single musician is worthy of note.
Whether you know everything Jaco or not, Word of Mouth Revisited is a release any modern jazz fan will want in his or her collection. It’s this year’s most welcome surprise.