The Rippingtons: Russ Freeman (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, bass guitar); Eric Marienthal (saxophone); Bill Heller (keyboards); Kim Stone (bass guitar); Dave Karasony (drums).
Additional personnel: Brian McKnight (vocals, various instruments); Jeffrey Osborne, Patti Austin (vocals).
Is it possible to pinpoint precisely when a popular style came into being? In one instance, a case could be made for smooth jazz's watershed moment: the debut of the Rippingtons. Formed in 1986, the Rippingtons are the brainchild of jazz guitarist and pianist Russ Freeman. They are to smooth jazz what Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers were to hard bop--namely, a musical college whose "alumnae" became stars of smooth jazz, a style unifying the most melodious aspects of fusion and post bop. The sole original member, Freeman gathered associates past and present for this disc to commemorate 20 years of successful music-making. The roll call of saxophonists alone is a Who's Who: Dave Koz, Brandon Fields, Kirk Whalum, and Eric Marienthal. Another leading light here is percussionist Steve Reid, who has also excelled in fusion and New Age contexts. While mostly instrumental, the album contains some tasty vocal spots, courtesy of Jeffrey Osborne (featured on the bonus track, the Spinners' "I'll Be Around") and jazz-pop diva Patti Austin. Fear not, fans--Freeman's supple, graceful guitar gets plenty of opportunities to shine.