Friday, June 10, 2005

Band adds spicy blend
to smooth jazz sound

There's still more music for guitarist Russ Freeman to learn, even as he's two years removed from his 20th anniversary as frontman of smooth jazz stalwarts the Rippingtons.

North Shore jazz

Turtle Bay Resort Honu Festival, with Russ Freeman & the Rippingtons and special guest Eric Marienthal, and the Honolulu Jazz Quartet with guest vocalist Ginai

Where: West Lawn, Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Highway

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $30 general and $15 children 4 to 11, available at all Ticketmaster outlets, toll free (877) 750-4400, or online at www.ticketmaster.com

Call: 293-6000

Note: No outside beverages allowed, and low back chairs only

And it's been about 10 years since the band played Hawaii. "We've had quite a few albums out since then," he said by phone from his Boca Raton, Fla., home earlier this week. "We've had a couple of No. 1's, and our new one, 'Wild Card,' debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart."

The band, with special guest saxophonist Eric Marienthal (who was recently here for the Hawaii International Jazz Festival), is headlining this year's Turtle Bay Resort Honu Festival on Saturday.

This time, Freeman and the band comes "with more musical influences, especially Miami-style salsa."

The new album features two numbers in that vein, complete with the participation of legendary Latin singers Albita and Willy Chirino (even three of the guys from local faves Ozomatli chip in with background vocals on one of the songs). But while the Rippingtons will be here sans vocalists, they'll be doing similar instrumental numbers like "Spanish Girl."

"The Latin and Spanish stuff is always fun to play live, and the audience loves the salsa," Freeman said.

Over its years of existence, the Rippingtons have had such musicians as Kenny G, David Benoit, Brandon Fields and Gregg Karukas pass through its lineup. Along with Marienthal as a frequent guest, the current lineup includes guitarist Freeman, bassist Kim Stone (who's been with the band 18 years), keyboardist Bill Heller, drummer Dave Karasony and percussionist Scott Breadman.

With Bill Mayer's ever-present jazz cat logo on each of the band's 17 previous album covers, the cat is depicted as the smiling, shades-wearing joker on "Wild Card." "This is one is really different from our earlier ones," Freeman claimed, "as it features more classical guitar, and more of the Spanish thing."

When asked what in particular made that genre of music appeal to him, he said: "It's tough to say why I like it so much. The music's so emotional that it resonates with me. It's a personal thing; that's why I like to play it.

"What really got me hooked was listening to Alejandro Sanz. He's a pop singer in Spain, and I was turned on to him by the person who co-wrote the vocal numbers with me, Yarendt Leon."

Festival attendees can expect the Rippingtons to showcase their skills and abilities "to play a lot of styles of music, some rock, funk and world beat, with Spanish and salsa influences."

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