Russ Freeman – Drive
(Peak – 2002)
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.
When composing music for his Rippingtons albums, Russ Freeman has to make sure to consider all the emsemble elements, assuring everyone of a part and a place in each composition. Over the years he has proven to be innovative and durable in this craft, helping to shape the face of smooth jazz as it developed. With the releae of Drive, we get to see a more interesting side of Freeman’s capabilities. Composing a CD for his instrument, rather than ensemble, allowed more creative freedom and artistic expression, resulting in a CD that I daresay is better than the last few Rippingtons releases.
On the CD Freeman plays both accoustic and electric guitars, and some of those are classics like his 1960 Stratocaster and 1933 Epiphone. In addition to the quality of the compositions, Russ is joined by a veritable who’s-who of smooth jazz giants, including Jeff Lorber (the Godfather of smooth jazz), Chris Botti, Barry Eastmond, and Eric Mariehthal. The two Eastmond collaborations, “Soul Dance” and “Anywhere Near You” are particularly nice and destined for radio play. The title track “Drive” has a nice, retro feel to it while the cover of Grover Washington’s “East River Drive” captures Grover’s flow and style well. Not a big Rippington’s fan myself, I found this album enjoyable and listenable. Russ should be a little more selfish when he writes Rippington’s material as well.