Rippingtons – Life in the Tropics

Rippingtons Rippingtons
Life in the Tropics
(Concord – 2000)
by Raymond Redmond

This should be subtitled ‘Russ Freeman goes to the Islands’. Back when they first hit the scene in the mid-80’s, Russ Freeman and the Rippingtons were a shot in the arm for contemporary jazz. However, as they released album after album, the recipe began to wear a little thin. Russ and the Rippingtons became the example for a great idea gone average. The music was always listenable, but for the most part the originality of the first releases was gone.

So, when I put this CD on it was with a little bit of trepidation. The CD starts out like the same old Rippingtons stuff, but on track three it takes a turn south and never comes back. Apparently Russ realized that the same old thing was not going to boost record sales, or bring in new listeners so he seems to be striving to reach another plateau or area of creativity to ground himself. He is somewhat successful, and appearances by smooth-jazz artists Bob James and Eric Marienthal help jazz it up a bit as well.

Do I like it? Yes. Is it Great? No. Is it Good? Yes, but different. Many Rippingtons fans will probably hate it, feeling that it sounds strange to be a ‘Rippingtons’ release. Russ has always managed to put out Good releases, because he is a good musician, and he brings good musicians to the studio (a. la. Donald Fagan and Steely Dan). So the music on the CD is creative and well performed, but it is different from what you expect when you put in a Rippington’s CD. Russ Freeman should be applauded for realizing that his formula was becoming routine and striking off in a new direction which may provide fertile ground for his proven creativity to once again thrive. We’ll be keeping an eye on future Rippingtons releases to see where Russ Freeman goes with this.