Back in 1990, Houston was one of a handful of stops for the JVC jazz festival, which featured icons such as Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and George Benson. Also on the bill was Lee Ritenour, a less-hallowed guitarist whose ace band of top studio talent nonetheless nearly stole the show from the headliners.
That was six years ago. Today, Ritenour is close to becoming a legendary draw in his own right. Certainly, his Hollywood upbringing -- not to mention his studies with masters such as Christopher Parkening, Joe Pass and Howard Roberts -- has helped turn him into an accomplished showman. No doubt, Ritenour has the chops; think Jeff Beck by way of George Benson and you've come close to understanding his approach. Even when Ritenour is playing it slick, he does so with sophisticated licks.
In the early '70s, a year after touring with Sergio Mendes, a 21-year-old Ritenour began his recording career as a first-call studio guitarist. His work has graced soundtracks for Saturday Night Fever, Taxi Driver and An Officer and a Gentleman, among others; he's also been part of studio efforts from the likes of Pink Floyd, Sonny Rollins, Paul Simon, Quincy Jones, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder.
The genesis of Ritenour's career as a solo artist came in 1976, with the release of First Course. That funkified effort has been followed by 19 other releases, among them 1977's classic Captain Fingers, which featured George Duke; 1985's Grammy-winning Harlequin; and 1988's Brazilian-influenced Festival, which went to number one on both the jazz and adult contemporary charts. A more recent Ritenour highlight was 1990's no-frills jazz offering Stolen Moments, which garnered him the respect he had lacked among jazz purists, who had bemoaned his more polished leanings.
Lately, Ritenour has returned to a more democratic creative environment with Fourplay, an all-star side project that includes Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason. In 1992, Fourplay scored a crossover hit when they recruited R&B vocalists El DeBarge and Patti Labelle to lend vocals to Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance," a tune that received extensive airplay on urban radio stations around the country.
For the moment, Fourplay is on hiatus. So Ritenour is currently leading another powerhouse touring band instead, one whose best-known player is probably former Miles Davis saxophonist Bill Evans. Filling out the lineup are Hilary Jones on drums, Melvin Davis on bass and Barnaby Finch on keyboards. And while there's never any question that guitarist Ritenour is the center of attention, you never know who in the supporting cast might turn out to be the next big thing. In judging talent, as in his playing, Ritenour's taste is impeccable.
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Lee Ritenour performs at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, January 16 and 17, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $25 to $50. For info, call 869-TICS.
Hush -- A lot has happened to disrupt Hush's peaceful forward flow since last year's South by Southwest Music Conference, where the Austin band delivered a showcase performance to melt hearts and stimulate intellects. The gig also wowed a few record label scouts, who witnessed hints of Edie Brickell's fresh-faced charm, an inverted sprinkle of Tori Amos's esotericism and the precocious rush of Veruca Salt's urgency. Soon after SXSW, the female-led alterna-roots quintet was teased, then tossed aside, by Neil Young's Vapor Records. About that same time, they reluctantly let go of their guitarist and their drummer, only to gain a pair of replacements (guitarist Billy White and drummer J.J. Johnson) who more than filled in the gaps. Then, just as audiences were getting used to that lineup, White was exchanged for lesser-known guitarist Aaron Barrera. But let's not make a disaster out of what looks to be a natural evolution; all of the above would have had a greater impact on Hush if it weren't for its two unflappable leaders, Pam Miller (piano, vocals) and Amy Atchley (guitar, vocals, occasional viola), and they aren't going anywhere. At the Velvet Elvis, 3303 Richmond Avenue, at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, January 16. Cover is $2.520-0434. (Hobart Rowland)
El Flaco -- Yes, El Flaco is still bumming around, and yes, the inveterate, high-volume sludge trio still has the same goals it's always had -- among them, to open for ZZ Top, to do lunch with Ronnie James Dio and to become the hottest-selling artist in Columbia House's Mail-Order Hall of Fame. Until these are achieved (along with finding the asshole who broke into their van in New York City), nothing else matters. Nothing else, that is, except scoring enough cash to eat and grinding out a racket loud enough to keep clubs' foundations here and in El Flaco's hometown of Austin shuddering days after the band packs its gear and exits. With age -- and the inevitable lost hair, beer bellies and failing internal organs that accompany it -- El Flaco's smart-aleck sense of humor has only gotten more pronounced, their taste in clothes more incomprehensible, their big guitars dirtier. Listen through the din, and you might even hear the wheels of a remarkable intellect spinning as they burn rubber toward a greater aesthetic purpose. Then again, maybe that's just feedback. At Rudyard's Pub, 2010 Waugh Drive, at 11 p.m. Friday, January 17. Cover is $4. Bigfoot Chester opens. 521-0521. (