Rippingtons, The - Topaz

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Windham Hill Jazz
Catalog Number: 01934-11438-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:00:00

I've been a fan of The Rippingtons since an friend/ex-coworker turned me on to them, my first listen being their album Sahara. What has attracted me to their sound, and thus to buy this, their latest release Topaz, is their clear, rich sound. Mainman Russ Freeman's guitar playing is simply beautiful. My two favourite instruments to hear played are the guitar and the saxophone, and any one who has read my myriad reviews here knows that a well played, emotive guitar is what I really favor.

A word about the production before I move on to the music itself - superb. Okay, more than a word - each and every one of Freeman's notes can be heard, each and every bit of drum and percussion by Dave Hopper (on all but one track), Tony Morales and Steve Reid (that one track), the haunting, lilting flute of Robert Tree Cody, .. .the keys by a variety of artists including Freeman himself ... everything. This is a very classy package: well laid out liner notes, the usual .. .or getting to be usual at least ... essay by Russ Freeman (more in a minute), and a spectacular, colourful cover.

This is a concept album "about a small town in New Mexico named Taos," Freeman writes. Taos lies "off the Santa Fe Trail, (the main road traveled toward the great California Goldrush of 1849) [and thus] able to maintain its simple way of life." As can be expected the sound-colours here are the colors of the southwest - brown, orange, blues ... well, those used in the cover above, actually. The music comes across as warm, inviting, relaxing and intriquing.

The"cast of characters" have changed from album to album maybe only by a player or two, though Freeman has been the mainstay. For those who don't know, The Ripps once included Kenny G., Dave Koz, and David Benoit, among others. On this outing Freeman is joined by not only those named above (Hopper, Morales, et. al.; Reid is a Ripps vet), but also Bill Heller, providing addtional keyboards, piano, organ,; Paul Taylor, saxes; Dave Kochanski, piano; Kim Stone, bass; and Tom Gannaway, flamenco guitar. Ramon Yslas is included in the pictures on the overleaf, but not credited on the tracks, so I'm not sure what his contribution is (an oversight at the typesetters?) [Website credits him with percussion - ed.].

Now, intriquing as this is, The Ripps pull no surprises here ... their chemistry and sound remain intact. That isn't to suggest that they have rehashed old musical ideas here, but that what you expect to hear, you will. There's no foray into fusion, no jazz-rap-hip-hop-crossover type thing, just pure, smooth jazz. No, they aren't pushing the boundaries - The Ripps have found their niche and are doing quite well in it.

The title track ... well, it's full title is "Topaz - Gem Of the Setting Sun" ... has a Santana-esque, "Oye Como Va" feel to it, mainly due to the percussion. Classical guitar has a strong presence here, which gives these tracks their warmth ... in fact, there is just something so appealing about acoustic guitars in general. "Temple Of The Sun" has an underlying fat keyboard sound, almost funky, very bouncy; Paul Taylor's soprano sax soars above, casually, giving an arial view of this "temple"... Maybe I've been watching too many computer animation videos and reading too many articles on South American archeaology, but the arial view would be animals at play (the keys), frolicking around the temple nearly buried in lush greenery; and when Freeman's guitar comes to forefront, you can imagine being inside and beside the temple...

"Stories Of The Painted Desert" ... well the title alone conjures up images of the stratefied rock, different layers of different colours ... Freeman's guitar is somewhat plaintive, melancholy for a simpler past that is gone; the highway has been built, the gas stations and mini-malls dot the landscape ... and yes, that means there is also a section of open playing, showing you vistas as the sun sets...

"Snakedance" is a jaunty tune, followed by the elegant "Led Here By An Eagle," which features Robert Tree Cody, "an elder of the Maricopa tribe [whose] carved wooden flute brings a lyrical and majestical beauty...," Freeman says, and I couldn't agree more. This is another sonic painting ... sonic movie ... by Freeman, who writes all the music. The sense of movement is alive in this track, not just from Cody's flute, but from the percussion, Freeman's electric guitar, the loping bass ... the sustained keyboard ... very evocative.

The Rippingtons have another winner here, highly recommended.

Taos (5:53) / Summer Lovers (4:40) / Spirits In The Canyon (5:01) / Under A Spanish Moon (4:18) / Temple of the Sun (4:45) / Stories Of The Painted Desert (4:42) / Snakedance (4:21) / Led Here By An Eagle (5:20) / Topaz: Gem Of The Setting Sun (4:57) / Rain (4:58)

Russ Freeman - guitars, keys, and bass
Bill Heller - keyboards, organ, and piano
Dave Hooper - drums
Paul Taylor - saxes
Kim Stone - bass
Robert Tree Cody - carved wooden flute
Dave Kochanski - piano
Tony Morales - drums (#4)
Steve Reid - percussion (#4)

Moonlighting (1986)
Kilimanjaro (1989)
Tourist in Paradise (1989)
St. James Club (1990)
Curves Ahead (1991)
Weekend In Monaco (1992)
Live In L.A. (1992)
Sahara (1994)
Brave New World (1996)
Black Diamond (1997)
Topaz (1999)
Live! Across America (2000)
Life In The Tropics (2000)
Let It Ripp (2003)
Wild Card (2005)

Genre: Jazz-Trad. Jazz

Origin US

Added: August 14th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1051
Language: english


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