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Release Date:
Feb 1, 2011

Reviewed by:
Harvey Cline

With its influences derived from the French Riviera, this February 1st release is going to be a hot one for most smooth jazz fans this winter as they welcome back one of the most successful groups of all time. Cote D’ Azure brings the Rippingtons back to the multi layered sound that accents the saxophone of Jeff Kashiwa and the steady guitar of Russ Freeman. Freeman’s compositions here continue to both amaze and inspire as he blends so many parts together and bringing in just the right “voices” at just the right time. Long time fans are surely in for a real treat as these new classics are unveiled. Says Freeman, “People have frequently remarked that our albums are like a travelogue of my life, and it's never been truer than in the case of "Cote D'Azur". I have always loved Italy, but my passion for the south coast of France really developed slowly, and took me by surprise, culminating in what could be the most passionate title track in the history of the Ripps.”

Freeman is joined again in writing the opening/title track by (wife) Yaredt Leon. The multi layered track begins with a spacious opening then kicks into overdrive for a couple of measure until Kashiwa accents the moment with his sax. The hook is set early as he gives way to Freeman’s guitar. Dave Karasony’s driving beat keeps it moving along at a good pace that plays well with the syncopated chorus. The three note passages are a nice touch that keeps this one building to a climatic ending. Kashiwa’s sax only adds the exclamation point to a rousing opener that is truly classic Rippingtons. This one flows right into “Le Calypso” as the mystic beginning gives way to Kashiwa’s volley on sax that is returned by Freeman’s guitar. This might be my favorite on the album. Rico Belled’s bass pushes it along at a nice pace. Russ changes over to electric and keeps things rolling along. After a cute brief interlude, Kashiwa rejoins him as the two play off together. Their duets continue to get better and better over time.

Bandol is a beautiful port city in France that plays to the rich and famous. The boats that line the harbor mirror the beauty and simplicity of the city itself. The tune by the same name flows along easily with hypnotic passages that spellbind the listener until the percussion of Karasony awakens them with back beats and the classical guitar of Freeman. He gets a chance to show off some good licks here with a driving beat that is a nice follow up to the first two songs. The layers of keys and guitar are nice touches and are not off base from the overall theme of the album. “Sainte Maxime” slows down the pace a little and features Russ from the very beginning. It continues to pick up pace as it goes and develops a really nice chorus that features Kashiwa once again. His playing here seems more of the solo variety instead of the notes added for the song. I like this one a lot as well, and the added phrases of Freeman only emphasis the degree of creativity on this album. Says Freeman, “For me, songs evaluate to true or false. They either reach some place inside you that is real, and connect to real emotions, or they don't. I don't know what it is about this song, but it has had a pretty remarkable effect upon some of our biggest fans, and there's no greater reward for a songwriter to know that...”

“Postcard From Cannes” is more acoustic in the approach as opposed to the layered sound heard from the first four cuts. Russ is on his acoustic early and gives way to Jeff for some nice solo work. Russ changes guitars and takes this one out to the end. “I'm pretty amazed at how this one came out. It's like a Rubik's cube. The idea was in my head for months, and when I was fooling around with it on guitar, I could never pin down the key, since the key changes every other bar or so. I was literally thinking, "better stop here and do a turnaround before I change keys again", and I tried to trust where it was going. I tried not to analyze it, and instead, just worked it like a train of thought exercise. I'm glad it found its way to the end.” says Russ.

The driving beat of “Passage To Marseilles” has a lot of middle eastern influence. The inspiration no doubt comes from this beautiful port city in the south of France.  The percussion drives throughout as Russ hits the guitar for some mid eastern influenced licks that combine to add a lot to the general theme of the album. “Provence” is one of the few slower songs here. The keyboards of Bill Heller are on display along with some nice electric guitar work that this southeastern French area has reminded him of. They all get together for “Riveiera Jam.” Kashiwa is out front most of the way weaving his sax into melodies that you’ll be humming long after this one is over. This one has the feel that the guys have been there for a while and are just ready to turn it loose. The inspiration for the next tune is taken the western district of Paris on the west side. It was formerly called Paradise Poissoniere.

“Rue Paradis” is a dark multi layered tune that drives the city streets. Along with Russ’ guitar there is some nice trumpet sounds (via synth guitar) through out that add to the mix. The Rippington’s always have a way of finishing off a release, and do so here. “Mesmerized” is the final cut that is both slower and introspective. Penned by both Freeman and Leon once again, this acoustic number is in sharp contrast to the opening title track, and is a good one to finish with. Says Freeman, “My wife, Yare wrote the hook. She's a fabulous songwriter. It's actually a vocal song with lyrics, so it was a challenge to make the melody work with the guitar, but I did my best. I just kept the production simple and let the melody do the work.”

Fans are in for a treat with this latest release. After multiple albums over the years, this one comes in completely fresh and full of life. The flow from one song to the next is remarkable and gives the overall project great strength. Hop on over to the south of France and treat yourself to some of smooth jazz’ finest.