An Entertaining Musical Evening with Lee Ritenour and Friends

Rare are those times when Santa Monica College plays host to a Grammy award winning artist, let alone two.

Indeed, it was a special evening when on Saturday, Feb. 20, Grammy award winning guitarist Lee Ritenour graced SMC's Broad Stage accompanied by a number of musicians that included fellow laureate, saxophonist Ernie Watts.

The evening of contemporary jazz was tangibly palliative to a packed and appreciative audience. Dedicated to the memory of Ritenour's mother who had recently passed away at the age of 90, the night swooned forward with no hint of melancholy. The melodies cannily melded both old and young members of the audience.

Established and well-known hits were fused with a few newer numbers, including some from his upcoming album, "Six String Theory". Meanwhile, the band shared in equal measures youth, experience and joi de vivre.

The star of the night, while an award winner of some repute, has a mantelpiece that is, however, rather bare when it comes to small golden gramophones.

Lee Robinson, an 18 year old guitar virtuoso from Australia whose credits include the rather dubious honor of finishing first in "Australia's Got Talent" television quest, arguably stole the show, which no mean feat considering the company he was keeping.

Robinson was also recipient of the far more admirable accomplishment of being the first instrumentalist to clinch top prize in the Champion Performer of the World competition. Robinson opened the evening with a couple of solo numbers such as, "Youtube," which he played on the Australian talent show.

His vibrantly energetic and note-knotted and difficult routines quickly endeared him to the audience, many of who understood and responded vocally to the precocious talent.

Then came Ritenour and Co. for a five-strong song set that afforded each band member an opportunity to glimmer brightly in the spotlight. In the beginning of the second song, a laid-back, plaintive number that conjured images of smoke-curdled jazz bars, Watts thrilled the crowd with a uniquely dexterous saxophone routine, while the following number began with a medley by piano maestro, John Beasley.

One highlight of this particular segment was their cover of the song, "Acqua da Bere" (water to drink), a suitably fluid and melodious song that gave Bassist Melvin Davis the chance to flex his vocal artistry with his own skewed take on beat-boxing.  The last song, entitled "L. P." after the late great guitarist Les Paul, culminated in a rousing drum solo by Oscar Seaton, who offered a breezy gust of youth to the band.

Then came perhaps the tour de force of the night.

Ritenour and Robinson took to the stage alone and proceeded to perform two acoustic guitar duets that exemplified more than just their consummate skill. It was a magical union of youth and wisdom, enthusiasm and experience.

With each admiring, almost paternal, glance from Ritenour to Robinson as he glided effortlessly through another complicated routine, one got the very definite impression if batons ever get passed from generation to generation, from master to prodigy, that this was it.

After the momentous jazz duo relay the band returned once more to stage and ran through a few more vintage hits, such as the coolly smooth "Wes Bound" and "P.A.L.S," a song whose intricate arrangement Ritenour joked earned it the acronym: Practice All Lines Slowly. With the last number, all performers contributed to a rousing finale, taking it in turns to sign off with one final flourish.

However, in the spirit of the night, Robinson's guitar improvisation seemed to shine with a slightly greater luster, leading Ritenour to toss his hands in the air as if to say "how do I top that?"

As the audience filed out from the theatre cathartically contented, Scott and Nancy Scheid from Monterey, Ca, who said that they had seen Ritenour perform a number of times, upheld that this was "by far their favorite performance," and they singled out the acoustic duet midway through the evening as the "real highlight."

While it may have been the highlight for them and many other audience members, the undeniable impression was left that the two performers got just as much enjoyment from it as the listeners did.