LEE RITENOUR & DAVE GRUSIN, Amparo
The careers of these two jazz legends have diverged wildly since they celebrated a lifetime of friendship and collaborations with their critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated classical excursion Two Worlds in 2000. While Ritenour has kept up a busy recording pace with gems like Smoke 'N' Mirrors and his all-star tribute productions A Twist of Marley and A Twist of Motown, Grusin was largely MIA from the original recording realm, popping up only briefly in 2004 with Now Playing: Movie Themes -- Solo Piano, featuring acoustic interpretations of his best film score pieces. No doubt Grusin's fans would still love a return to the pop/jazz realm, but there's no shortage of brilliance from either performer on their classical sequel Amparo, a worthy follow-up to the first project.
On the original, they took a very traditional approach, exploring the works of Bach, Bartók, and Villa-Lobos, among others, but on Amparo, the greatest surprise is the wider ranging multi-culturalism. Grusin himself composed the hypnotic opening suite of "Three Latin American Dances," which roll from a spritely "Tango en Parque Central" to percussive and dramatic swings through "Danzon de Etiqueta" and "Joropo Peligroso."
The lone holdover guest from the first project is opera great Renée Fleming, whose wordless transcendence blends magically with violinist Joshua Bell on a dreamy Gabriel Fauré piece. The duo then goes folky to pleasing effect on the graceful, charmingly lyrical and orchestra enhanced "English Folk Song Suite," which they cap with "Since I First Saw Your Face," a bright slice of 17th century English romance delivered sweetly by guest vocalist James Taylor.
Before returning to tradition via the rich string arrangement on Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite," Grusin and Ritenour lovingly recall their mid-'80s Brazilian-influenced jazz project Harlequin by tapping into Jobim's passionate "Olha Maria (Amparo)" with the sweetening of Bell's violin. The thoughtful Rit original "Echos" is followed by two wonderful showcases for one of the 2000s most popular trumpeters, Chris Botti, who is perfectly at home bringing beauty and brilliance to "Adagio in G Minor" and Handel's lively "Rinaldo, Duetto," which he performs as a cheery, then pensive, then happy again narrative duet with Fleming's world-renowned vocal prowess.
The sheer artistry of Amparo will make fans of all of the artists involved hope that the dynamic duo won't wait till 2016 before enchanting them again with this kind of welcome excursion.