Required Listening: Rit

by Steve Kramer on March 21, 2012

Today’s Required Listening contribution comes from my friend, Steve Kramer. Steve is himself a musician and deeply knowledgable about music. He has a great choice for this week.



“Rit” – Lee Ritenour (1979)

Oh c’mon… it was the eighties. Music was going through a change. The love affair with 60’s leftover bands (e.g., Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon) and southern rock (e.g., Allman Brothers, Little Feat) was waning. Hard rockers were sporting glitter, dumbing down their skills and ramping up their anger. Soft rockers were turning their attention to the dance floor as Disco was spreading like an airborne disease. By this time, even the jazz players were caught up in the mania. While traditional jazz players more or less stayed the course, the 80’s generation of jazzers added a pop flavor to their repertoires in hopes of catering to a broader audience.

One such player was legendary guitarist Lee Ritenour as demonstrated on his album “Rit”, released in 1979. Lee had been known up to this point as a traditional jazz guitarist whose albums generally met the tried and true criteria - several rock covers (e.g., Isn’t She Lovely-Stevie Wonder) and several self-penned chordal exercises meant to be a backdrop for soloing. With “Rit”, this formula was abandoned. Armed with a cadre of great musicians, Lee leaped into the Pop genre with the tune “Is It You?” co-written by singer/songwriter Bill Champlin and performed by Dutch vocalist Eric Tagg. “Is It You?”  went on to reach #5 in Jazz Charts and #15 in both Pop and R&B charts. Other hits on the album included “Mr. Briefcase” (pre-Occupy Wall Street protest song - #5 Jazz Charts) and “Countdown” (#5 Jazz Charts; #10 Dance Charts).

Ritenour’s journey into the Pop was apparently working as evidenced by this 5-star review found on Amazon:

“This was my introduction to Lee’s music, and in many ways, to Jazz itself. As a fledgling guitarist, prior to buying this album I was caught up in the Rock n Roll scene along with all the other young guitar players that I knew at that time — each of us trying to mimic Eddie Van Halen’s riffs. “Rit” changed all of that for me. From the very first listen, I recognized the true talent of this gifted musician and gained an appreciation for the great production work of the recording as well”. –Patrick A. Stevens

Not only was “Rit” an example of how musicians successfully “crossed over” into Pop music, it also illustrates how disco had influenced musicians at that time. Anyone who knows disco is familiar with that driving beat that produces an insatiable urge to dance-a kick drum on all four counts of a four bar measure. Lee obviously knew this and used a LinnDrum to accomplish the effect. The LinnDrum is a programmable digital device used to create and play drum tracks. These machines were used principally in two ways: one, to create rhythms that weren’t normally played by drummers (e.g., Prince, Thomas Dolby), or two, to replicate what a real drummer would play. The latter is the case in Rit’s case and are demonstrated in tracks #6. Countdown (Captain Fingers) and #9. On The Slow Glide”.

Overall, a great album with a place in history as an example of the changing landscape of  Jazz, Pop and Rock in the 80’s.

Amazon MP3 Link:Rit

iTunes Link: Rit

The Required Listening: Rit by Steve Kramer, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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