By Michael Katz
There was a pleasing aura of comfort that emanated over the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night, the result of a group of musicians closely associated with L.A. that turned the sometimes imposing amphitheatre into their own personal living room on a chilly mid-summer’s night. From former L.A. resident and recent director of the Bowl’s jazz program Dianne Reeves, to native Lee Ritenour (celebrating 50 years on the guitar) and Dave Grusin, with enough movie and TV scores to qualify as an honorary native, the performers had a perfect rapport with the audience, who in turn lent them their attention in ways not always evident at L.A.’s largest venue.
Dianne Reeves opened the show with a rousing, blues-tinged “Today Will Be A Good Day,” which featured Romero Lubambo on guitar, showing that his skills go far beyond his native Brazilian rhythms. Though Reeves has been best known for her lush interpretations of standards, especially since her work on the film “Goodbye and Good Luck,” there was nary a jazz standard in the program, and for this night it showed off her versatility with crisp, swinging versions of her own compositions and jazz-tinged versions of classic r&b numbers. Most impressive was an improvised vocalese tango, delivered in sultry fashion, abetted again by Lubambo, as well as a sterling rhythm section with Peter Martin on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. Equally stirring was her dramatic reading of the ballad, “Goodbye,” which had the Bowl audience pindrop silent. Reeves used a continual vocalese patter to communicate with the crowd, urging them to join in the chorus on a soulful version of “Just My Imagination,” and a later nod to Michael Jackson to close the set.
Lee Ritenour led off the second half of the program by introducing the conceptual 6 String Theory highlighted in his latest cd and immediately yielded the stage to bluesmen Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal. With Taj on acoustic guitar and Keb on an understated electric, their vocals took precedence on “Government Cheese” and “Honky Tonk Woman.” Blending in Taj Mahal’s slightly crustier voice, the two had a folksy, roadhouse feel, reminiscent of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Taj picked up the harmonica as Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin joined in, backed up by Marvin Lee Davis on bass and Sonny Emory on drums, for a rollicking “Am I Wrong.”
Ritenour featured his jazz chops on the next couple of tunes, starting with “Wes Bound,” his tribute to Wes Montgomery from the album of the same name. Up to this point, pianist Grusin had been lurking in the background, but he took center stage for the beginning of a Jobim medley, soloing beautifully in “Fotografia.” Ritenour then kicked in with “Stone Flower” from his Twist of Jobim CD, which has become a signature piece in his live shows.
John Scofield joined the group for the next three numbers, showing off an astonishing versatility. First he joined Ritenour on a tribute to Les Paul entitled “LP,” the two of them trading riffs with a Nashville accent, ably filled out by Grusin who was now manning a candy apple red electric organ. Next came “Lay It Down”, a rock-funk burner with Scofield and Ritenour bringing the crowd to its feet with one sensational lick after another. Finally, Ritenour stepped back and let Scofield lead the quartet in another highlight of the evening, a searingly beautiful version of “My Foolish Heart,” his acid-tinged tones reverberating in heartbreak.
Dave Grusin stepped in next with an equally compelling turn, playing solo piano on “Memphis Stomp,” from his solo piano soundtrack for Sydney Pollack’s film of John Grisham’s The Firm. Grusin combines a classic jazz swing style with his western roots – fans of his recognize it most memorably in his hit “Mountain Dance” – and his work, particularly in this score, showed off his ability to evoke a sense of place. You could almost see the backdrop of Grisham’s novels in his performance.
From there the show fell into an easy listening pop-jazz groove, featuring Ritenour and the band in “Getup Standup” and finally “Smoke N’ Mirrors,” which featured a rousing extended percussion solo with some terrific stick work by Sonny Emory. The whole crew, including Dianne Reeves, came back for “Why I Sing The Blues,” with an L.A. down home feel that had the crowd up in the aisles, stamping their approval.
To read Lee Ritenour’s Q & A about the making of “6 String Theory” click here.
To read more reviews by Michael Katz click here.