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CD REVIEW: The Matt Ritvo Group

We here at the Beast don't usually do CD reviews (we overdosed on them in the Nineties and simply ran out of 10-cent adjectives) but we met guitarist/pianist Matt Ritvo at the old Pasadena Jazz Institute space and Mimi Melnick’s Jazz Salon (which, by the way, was just referenced in Rex Butter’s new AAJ profile of another gee-tar guy). Quite honestly, he was so soft-spoken we never would have guessed the guy had assembled a powerhouse L.A. sextet of elder statesmen for his debut CD: Rahmlee Michael Davis (trumpet), Bobby English (tenor sax), Michael Session (tenor sax), Roberto Miguel Miranda (bass) and Woodrow "Sonship" Theus (drums).


The opener, “Dirty Murray,” sets the scene for this understated disc that's ocassionally spiked with spirited intensity. Ritvo's solo piano intro takes its time before unfolding a slo-drag blues shuffle with simple sax harmony. Ritvo’s busy piano runs meld melody and dissonance, spurred by the Coltranisms of Session’s tenor sax -- soon joined by English as their voices intertwine like a pair of morning glory vines. “Blues for Sonship," the CD’s centerpiece, is named after the gloriously eccentric percussionist, who at live shows would often break into possessed and riveting holy pronouncements from his drum seat that could go on for twenty minutes (the Beast actually witnessed this). The tune launches with Ritvo on crystalline guitar -- firmly ensconced in the Joe Pass-Wes Montgomery pantheon -- and features a “snapping” bass solo by Roberto Miranda. Davis’ trumpet recalls muted Miles, although quicker and more acrobatic, like an ornery hornet. There's some furious vamping by Session and English before Mr. Theus himself -- who's been playing deceptive possum throughout the tune -- explodes in a thunderous drum break that enables one to understand why, back in the day, people like Alex Cline argued over who would carry his traps.

Matt Ritvo leads studio rehearsal with Roberto Miranda

With the exception of "Blues for Sonship," most of these tunes are bite-sized snippets (both "Queensberry Street" and its reprise clock in at barely more than a minute). "The Path" breathes like a funky film-noir soundtrack before ending in a horrified peal of dissonance. “396 Bellevue” carries an off-kilter melody that seems to backs up on itself, creating an aural illusion that almost sounds like you’re listening to it in reverse. Ritvo’s halting barrelhouse-inflected piano interlude brings the song down to concert-hall quiet softness before the tune fades out like smoke from a departing train.

The Matt Ritvo Group: "The Path"

All in all, a wonderfully under-the-radar release that will prove essential to any salt-worthy L.A. jazz snerd. You can pick up the CD here.

Matt Ritvo interviewed by Richard Blackwell

Francisco Aguabella
Fred Anderson
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Ali-Ollie Woodson

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