Indian summer is upon us, which means hot days, warm nights, and yet another harvest of ripe, bountiful grapes being transformed into award-winning Temecula Valley wines.
It also meant that jazz greats The Rippingtons were back in our wine country, kicking off their latest tour at a favorite venue of theirs, Thornton Winery — one of the major concert stops in Southern California for contemporary jazz’s best and most popular artists.
A packed house greeted original guitarist and leader Russ Freeman and his band Sunday afternoon, fully expecting a hot show to equal the the day’s rising mercury level.
The Ripps didn’t disappoint.
After a steamy set by keyboardist Brian Simpson, the Rippingtons opened up with their unique take on the Police’s “Spirits in the Material World.”
Noting the intense heat, especially for those sitting in the general admission section where there was no protection from the sun (hats and hand-held fans were in abundance), Freeman gave kudos to his fans: “I’m glad to see everyone is hanging in there…I’m impressed!”
From there, the Ripps’ set relied heavily on cuts from their latest release, “Built To Last” which is also their most recent number one album. Not bad for a band celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Introducing new track “Cougars & Gigolos,” Freeman made it sound as though the instrumental could very well have been composed specifically for So Cal’s premier wine region.
“This one is for you, Temecula,” chuckled the Ripps’ lead singer.
Another new song, “Fools Gold,” was the rockingist effort of the evening, led by Freeman’s seemingly effortless fretwork.
“This one has the endorsement of a certain 16-year old who doesn’t even like jazz,” explained the Ripps’ leader, right before tearing into the track.
Freeman is certainly one of our great contemporary jazz/pop guitarists. Melodic and fiery, yet cool, he can play just about any style, and seems to never reach outside the song’s boundaries. What a song requires of him, he supplies. “Tasteful” may be the best way to describe Freeman’s six-string style.
As the sun started to play peek-a-boo with the rolling vineyards in the west and the early evening cooled a bit, concert-goers took to the dance floor, encouraged by not only the Ripps’ energetic music, but by Thornton Winery’s extensive list of Methode Champenoise style sparkling wines.
Good wine equals good times.
“This is like a big party in some rich person’s backyard,” stated Ripps’ saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, noting the winery’s intimate, yet sizable fountain courtyard.
Freeman and company ended the evening with an encore led by “Black Diamond” off of “Built To Last,” which smoothly transitioned into cover versions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (“Scuze me while I kiss the sky!”) and “Fire.”
Whether the band was referencing the hotter-than-normal temperature or a local fire’s billowing smoke seen in the distance throughout the evening’s show, either way, the choice of closing songs hit the mark.
“This is our favorite place,” admitted Freeman. “We love you Temecula!”
Back atcha, Russ. See you next time.
Chris Baptiste is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.