Guitarist Lee Ritenour sounds happy on the phone just before Christmas, and why shouldn't he? He's moved back into his Malibu house, which has been under renovation for two years. Despite a garage full of boxes to unpack, it's good to be home, finally, for the holidays.
Ritenour has other reasons to be happy as 1997 draws to a close. His new record label, i.e. Music, is moving ahead full steam. The company's first release "Twist of Jobim," a collection from the Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, made album of the year on two major national jazz radio playlists this year and also spent much of the year on Billboard's top jazz albums chart.
Ritenour doesn't even mind that, for the first time in 20 years, he'll be working New Year's Eve as Twist of Jobim says goodbye to 1997 in a gala concert at the Newport Dunes Resort in Newport Beach.
"I always take the night off," the guitarist, 45, said. "But the show sounded fun, and it was right in my backyard. We've done 60 concerts this year with Twist of Jobim, and I didn't think it would be hard to gear back up for this one."
Ritenour, who replaced John Tesh at the Dunes celebration after Tesh canceled for personal reasons, was able to enlist a standout lineup on short notice (the album features guest appearances by everyone from El DeBarge to Herbie Hancock). Vocalist Vesta Williams, soon to release her next CD on the i.e. label, will be joined by prominent Brazilian percussionist Paulhino da Costa (who plays a major role on the recording). Also on tap are drummer Gary Novak, keyboardists Larry Williams and Barnaby Finch, among others.
"What I've tried to do" with Jobim's material, Ritenour said, "is keep the integrity of the original tune. The collaborations between [saxophonist Stan] Getz and Jobim had this very cool, almost West Coast vibe. And that's what I tried to save. Even with tape loops and other technology behind it, the music has this very sexy, very romantic and lush, involved vibe.
"A Twist of Jobim" marks an auspicious beginning to the record company Ritenour started with former GRP record executive Mark Wexler and JazzIs magazine founder Michael Fagien.
"It isn't wise for an artist like me to start a record company without the appropriate business counterparts," Ritenour said. "I can handle all the artistic parts of the business and leave the marketing to them."
Ritenour, who is courting one or two major names for the label, said he's most looking forward to signing new talent.
"I know the truly good players from those who just have flash. I want to be like Jerry West is to the Lakers, knowing that this young 18-year-old named Kobe [Bryant] can come out and really play with the big guys."
The label i.e. has released saxophonist Eric Marienthal's latest album (Marienthal opens the New Year's Eve concert) and has signed Brazilian vocalist-percussionist Badi Assad.
Ritenour is also looking forward to doing his next album, scheduled for summer release. The guitarist--who preceded "Twist" with a live recording and the Wes Montgomery tribute "Wes Bound"--said the next disc will not be a theme project.
"It's actually going to take three or four directions. I'm going to do a couple of Sonny Rollins things from the 'Alfie' [soundtrack], interpretations of Bob Marley, some signature Ritenour pieces of contemporary jazz and one classical piece, French Impressionist composer Gabriel Faure's 'Pavane for Orchestra.'
"Musically, it's all over the map, but I'm hoping my jazz guitar can pull it all together," Ritenour said.
He promises to cover some musical territory during the concert as well.
"We'll concentrate on Jobim, but I'll do some material from 'Wes Bound' and some of my older material too. And we'll feature all the guys in the band."
* Lee Ritenour and a Twist of Jobim play at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Newport Dunes Resort, 1131 Backbay Drive, Newport Beach. $100-$200 includes dinner; general admission, $65. Eric Marienthal, Jeff Lorber and David Benoit open. Black-tie optional. Benefits Second Harvest Foundation. Attendees are encouraged to bring canned food for donation. (714) 650-5483.