I Call It Fun

A press release via email arrived to alert me to an anniversary CD+DVD release by The Rippingtons; included was a brief audio clip. A minute or two of an upbeat dance track titled “Bingo-Jingo” was enough to re-awaken memories of years gone by.

All of you straight-ahead jazzers may be aghast to hear that I rather like this group…I just wish that the word “jazz” was not used in the same sentence. Such is the way of the music biz, ascribing (or in many cases, usurping) niche identifications for the purpose of targeting sales. My dad says the term “music business” is itself an oxymoron. (Maybe just plain moronic would be more apt.) Of course the word “jazz” can also be used to mean “empty or insincere or exaggerated talk” as in “don’t give me any of that jazz,” but that’s another story.

Sometimes these appelations do more harm than good. I remember a few years back I was assigned to review a Rachael Z recording. The package arrived with the F word — Fusion — emblazoned on the front and had I not been on assignment it would have ended up in the round file without a hearing. That would have been my loss, and I said so in the review, noting that labels such as fusion, avant-garde, straight-ahead, and bop may be useful to the sales force, but they do little to illuminate our understanding as listeners.

But back to The Rippingtons. Despite the fact that they are billed as “smooth jazz pioneers,” their sound has a nostalgic appeal for me and I enjoy it for what it is…parts of it, anyway. Their “20th Anniversary Celebration,” a special CD/DVD retrospective, was released on July 25th on Peak Records, reuniting founding Rippingtons member Russ Freeman with past members, Dave Koz, Brian Mcknight, Jeffrey Osbourne and others.

The opening audio track has that electronic new-agey feel that leaves me cold, so I skip to track two, “Celebration,” which is the first of the four tunes that includes a horn section, the others being “Bingo Jingo,” “Rainbow,” and “A 20th Anniversary Bonus.” Those are the tracks I like best — they are jazzier and made me also want to revisit the sounds of those three-name groups: Blood, Sweat & Tears and Earth, Wind & Fire.

I wouldn’t describe The Rippingtons as playing deep music, but it is fun. And if you ARE a smooth jazz fan, The Rippingtons are among the best.

The DVD includes some cool computer-enchanced video of performances super-imposed over scenes of cavorting on the ski slopes (curves ahead) and sailing the seas (tourist in paradise). When I finally got around to watching the historical overview with interview snippets I was amused to see a tongue-in-cheek report from Canadian television grappling with how to describe the Rippingtons’ music, and gratified to hear Russ Freeman, back in his younger years, saying “I don’t even like the word jazz anymore.”

I’ll let Russ have the last word…today.