Contemporary Jazz

Getting Arty

26 MAR 09 JONATHAN WIDRAN

Over the last 23 years since The Rippingtons helped launch the new era of contemporary jazz, their legions of devoted fans have looked forward to discovering the latest extracurricular passions of founder, composer and guitarist Russ Freeman. The band's latest, Modern Art, reflects Freeman's development as a landscape painter and illustrator as well as an avid art collector.

When he lived in Colorado in the '90s, he was a big skier (Curves Ahead, Black Diamond). He explored the beauty of the Southwest with Topaz, hit a hole in one on Let It Ripp and leaned in Latin and Caribbean directions on Life In The Tropics and Wild Card after relocating to South Florida.

Modern Art features an exciting revamped lineup, including new bassist Rico Belled and special guest, returning saxman Jeff Kashiwa. The set takes the Ripps into slightly edgier territory, expanding beyond their trademark fun pop sound with more jazz, more blistering rock, high energy blues and world music flavors. The emotional core is the guitarist's ongoing creative partnership with his new wife, multi-talented songwriter Yaredt Leon, who co-penned four songs on Wild Card.

Here, Freeman and Leon get artsy on the exotic and sensuous "Pastels on Canvas" and the blues-tinged ballad "I Still Believe." Except for the occasional classic soul cover tune, Ripps albums are for the most part driven by Freeman's vision as an original composer. Letting Leon into his creative world adds bright dimensions and possibilities. She has sole writing credit on the graceful, tropical flavored charmer "Sweet Lullaby."

in this playlist.