The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman — True Stories

June 2, 2016

While the cover of the latest release from The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman (due for release on June 24) may appear puzzling as you see the silhouette of supposedly terrified people with arms raised in fear of the menacingly large Godzilla-like image of the beloved Jazz Cat icon bearing a sinister grin, threatening teeth, tentacles, and obviously bad intentions, be assured that the marvelous musical appeal of that Rippingtons aesthetic is not at all compromised. This supergroup definitely has no idea of what the word mediocrity means as it again shines through with its signature superior quality blend of jazz, R&B, pop/rock, and Latin grooves on True Stories, its 30th anniversary celebratory project.

Maintaining a solid captivating hold on you from the rousing lead track “Wild Tales” all the way through the final and title track, legendary guitarist Freeman, along with his usual partners in musical excellence (original member alto and soprano saxophonist Brandon Fields, drummer Dave Karasony, bassist and Rhodes player Rico Belled) and special guest Jeffrey Osborne, proves again that real talent and vision will always reign supreme in this colorful genre. Freeman says, “When I started the Rippingtons, I never imagined it would last more than the release of one album, let alone thirty years!” Somehow, from my personal first exposure to the group, I knew they’d be a mainstay and iconic presence in this biz for years to come.

With that wonderful Ripps feel, the group takes us again on adventure-filled moods and slick tracks. Its obvious emphasis on presenting another very eclectic and Ripps-defining project is undeniable as they coast from the previously mentioned lead track to tunes like the sparkling “Sundance,” the exotic Latin-rich “Flamenco Beach” and its unforgettable hook, and the satiny vocals of R&B crooner Jeffrey Osborne on the sultry “My Promise to You.” Add to that the snappy up-tempo “Reach Higher,” a pair of hypnotically melodic gems (“Dreamcatcher” and “Wonderland,” the latter sneaking in a bit of reggae spice at the beginning and some searing rocker licks during the crescendo toward the end), the wild and gritty rock/fusion offering “Kings Road” — which might remind one of the DiMeola heyday (Karasony places an exclamation point on this one with some stellar drum work), and the final two diamonds “Golden Child” and the title track, and you’ve another irresistible recipe for a Ripps chart-topper.

Always aiming for the stars, these guys never miss. It’s in the group’s DNA. Take a listen, and you’ll undoubtedly agree and clearly understand why they continuously defy time. – Ronald Jackson