a trip to the ripp

To say the first annual Elk Creek Jazz Festival features the smooth grooves and tropical fusion music of The Rippingtons as the headline act is certainly correct. Though a regular visitor to Lexington for a time, the ensemble has largely been absent from the area for much of the past decade.

But as most any fan of the band will tell you, its official title is The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman, a nod to the guitarist, principal composer, leader and mainstay member who brought The Rippingtons to life over 22 years ago. But to have the event promoted as the Elk Creek Jazz Festival featuring The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman? Nope. Just two many “features” in there, folks. But rest assured, Rippingtons fans, Freeman will still be at the helm when the band hits Owenton on Saturday.

Owenton? Hmm. The home of Elk Creek Vineyards, which requires roughly a half-hour drive on I-75 North through some pretty significant interstate construction (although don’t expect that to tie up traffic much on Saturday afternoon), seems far removed from some of the locales Freeman references in his predominantly instrumental compositions. Among his titles: Villa by the Sea (actually a track from a 2002 Freeman solo album called Drive), Life in the Tropics, Aspen, South Beach Mambo, Seven Nights in Rome, Morocco and One Summer Night in Brazil.

Perhaps the epitome of the exotic escapism behind Freeman’s music is Weekend in Monaco, a breezy 1992 album whose cover art depicts a Cheshire cat complete with hip beret (the cartoon mascot can be found on all Rippingtons albums) behind the wheel of a yellow sportster as its navigates ocean-side curves enroute to some posh getaway.

OK, so it’s not the same as a weekend getaway to Owenton. But Freeman and Elk Creek are going to be doing their best to bring a little of that lavish spirit to Kentucky on Saturday, along with performances by Cincinnati’s Randy Villars Band, the University of Kentucky Faculty Jazz Quartet and Alma y Clave. The music begins at 4 p.m. The Rippingtons are scheduled to play at 8.

In a field of more organically designed smooth jazz bands, The Rippingtons share a close stylistic kinship with Spyro Gyra. Both groups share a preference for sunny, tropical rhythms that emphasize saxophone and percussion, although Freeman’s guitarwork obviously serves as a lead voice for The Rippingtons.

Both design music rich in melodic appeal drawn as much from pop as jazz. That explains why the title tune to The Rippingtons’ 1996 album Brave New World is featured on Smooth Jazz II, a sampler record released earlier this month. The link between the album’s soft-focus tunes is the fact they have all been used as background music for forecasts on the Weather Channel.

“Yes, and the chance of precipitation in Monaco tonight will be…”

Most of all, though, The Rippingtons and Spyro Gyra have shared bass players. When the latter band was a frequent performer at the old Breeding’s on New Circle Road in the early ‘80s, bassist Kim Stone proved an engaging and energized foil for saxophonist/leader Jay Beckenstein. Similarly, Stone’s Bob Goes to the Store, a jam inspired by the bassist’s dog, was a highlight of those shows.

But for over 18 years, Stone has been rolling with The Rippingtons, where his finger-popping bass work has been regularly featured on the set-closing High Roller (from Weekend in Monaco).

These days, Freeman is something of his own boss. Admittedly, that’s always been the case with the band itself, whose personnel has regularly revolved under the guitarist’s stewardship. But Freeman also co-founded Peak Records in 1994, which today oversees all Rippingtons albums and Freeman-related recordings as well new music by as a roster of pop/jazz/R&B notables that includes Lee Ritenour, David Benoit and Regina Belle.

The most recent Peak project for The Rippingtons is 2006’s 20th Anniversary. Despite a celebratory title that suggests a retrospective, the album is actually full of new recordings that feature numerous band alumni (including drummer Tony Morales) and a few guest vocalists (including R&B crooner Jeffrey Osborne, who concludes a finale medley with an update of The Spinners’ I’ll Be Around). Freeman dedicated the album to the late vocalist Carl Anderson, the voice that ignited The Rippingtons’ hit 1989 album Tourist in Paradise (where the trademark Cheshire is surfing on the cover).

Little of the 20th Anniversary material figures into the band’s current concerts, though. Many recent performances still revolve around crowd favorites, including the title tracks to the Tourist in Paradise, Welcome to the St. James Club (1990) and Black Diamond (1997) albums as well as High Roller and an occasional Freeman take on Jimi Hendrix material.

So what, then, if a weekend in Owenton doesn’t have the same vacation poster appeal as Weekend in Monaco? With Freeman and company back in the region on Saturday, Elk Creek is bound to become a Kentucky getaway with its own jet-setting charm. They could even design a new album cover for the occasion with the Cheshire in a basketball uniform. Works for me

The Elk Creek Jazz Festival featuring The Rippingtons begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at Elk Creek Vineyards, 150 Hwy 330 in Owenton. Tickets are $20-$200. Gates open at 3 p.m. Call (502) 484-0005. For more information, visit www.elkcreekvineyards.com

Florida rock band works for a slice of indie success.

The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL) January 17, 2005 Byline: Jim Abbott ORLANDO, Fla. _ The song is only one minute and 48 seconds long, but the video shoot for punk-pop trio Whole Wheat Bread’s “Old Man Samson” turns minutes into a marathon.

For starters, there are the continuous lighting and sound adjustments on the set at the Bar-BQ-Bar on downtown Orlando’s Orange Avenue.

Is the label visible on that bottle? Can someone turn it around? Is there enough fake cigarette smoke? Can someone get rid of the smoke? Members of the hometown cast, not a legitimate actor among them, retrace their steps and movements over and over.

“That’s perfect!” says director Mike Marshall, a University of Central Florida alumnus back in town as a favor to old friends. “Now, can we do it again?” The video shoot for the first single on Jacksonville-based Whole Wheat Bread’s new “Minority Rules,” is a career-building step for one of the debut acts on Orlando’s indie-label Fighting Records. It’s also a labor of love.

No one in the room full of local extras is being paid, unless one counts a complimentary round at the bar after the 10-hour shoot. The director and crew aren’t making much more, though they have been brought in from across the country.

“We’ve called in every favor we’ve ever had,” says John Youngman, vice president and co-founder of Fighting with partner Ryan Marshall (no relation to Mike).

There’s hope that the video will wind up on buzz-making channels such as MTV2 or Fuse, but Youngman knows that it won’t happen overnight. The band’s focus in 2005 will be an aggressive touring schedule in the Southeast and as far north as Detroit and Minnesota.

He looks across the bar, where the crew is fretting about yet another shadow.

“It’s a lot like this set,” he says. “A lot of hurry up and wait.” No one in the band or at the label is making much money yet, but there’s determination and optimism on the set that exudes confidence in the future. in our site whole wheat bread

A trio of black musicians unapologetically devoted to punk music is a rarity in the vast sea of hip-hop acts. Yet it’s not a stretch for Whole Wheat Bread.

“It just came naturally,” says singer-guitarist Nicholas Largen, 23. “That’s what we listened to back in the days of Green Day and Nirvana. All of us have been into it since we were kids.” Despite the tedium, the idea of doing a video shoot is almost unimaginable for the guys in Whole Wheat Bread.

“It’s like a dream,” says drummer Joseph Largen, 24, Nicholas’ brother. “You see the bands you love as a kid on MTV and that’s what you wanna do. To get the chance to do it is a dream come true.” The Largens and bassist Aaron Abraham, 21, don’t spend much time anymore in their hometown. The band is usually taking care of business in Orlando.

Joseph is missing the birth of his son back in Jacksonville to make the video. The delivery of 8-pound Colin wraps quicker than the shoot.

Joseph looks into the portable video recorder that his brother always carries and sends a message to Colin: “To my new son that’s being born, I love you. But this is Daddy’s new job.” (EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM) On the set, the star of the video is working on his most complicated scene. Al Pressley, 58, has been cleaning and doing odd jobs at Bar-BQ-Bar for almost 14 years. site whole wheat bread

Now he is playing Old Man Samson, a hard-drinking regular at a local watering hole.

“They handpicked me,” Pressley says, smiling broadly as he hoists a bottle of pale ale to his lips. His assignment is to jostle his way through a crowd of bar patrons, a task he handles with precision.

He tackles the choreography of a tricky do-si-do scene with help from Youngman, who cues him with a light touch on the back of his knee.

Pressley is part of a cast and crew populated by friends. The video’s bartender is Margot Moselle, 25, who does the same job for real at PR’s in Winter Park. Jessi Davis, who worked with Youngman and Marshall in their days at Back Booth nightclub, is the volunteer makeup artist.

That hometown spirit appealed to director Marshall, whose resume includes a stint as technical coordinator on Ozzy Osbourne’s MTV reality series and an internship at Orlando’s Haxan Films.

“There is a good vibe to the whole thing,” he says. “It makes a big difference.” (END OPTIONAL TRIM) For Whole Wheat Bread, there’s the expectation of bigger things: the Jan. 25 release of “Minority Rules” and an anticipated showcase at this year’s South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. Youngman says the industry is tough, but that indie labels can still succeed with realistic goals.

“We’re not judging success like a movie on opening weekend,” Youngman says. “We’re going to be working the record for a solid year.” Like a video shoot, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE) ___ WHOLE WHEAT BREAD “Minority Rules” (Fighting Records) 4 stars (out of 5) Jacksonville, Fla., punk-pop trio Whole Wheat Bread is a formidable presence on stage, but that doesn’t always guarantee a new band an impressive debut album.

Fortunately, the 11 songs on “Minority Rules” (in stores Jan. 25) explode with almost the same force as the band’s live show. There’s nothing particularly ambitious about the approach to these hard-hitting sonic bursts, which detonate in intervals of roughly two minutes each.

Yet singer-guitarist Nicholas Largen, drummer Joseph Largen (Nick’s brother) and singer-bassist Aaron Abraham deliver the goods so solidly that innovation isn’t required. Producer Darian Rundall, whose credits include work for Yellowcard, merely gets out of the way to provide an uncluttered landscape on tracks recorded at Redondo Beach and Cell Studios in Orlando.

Without needless studio distractions, the emphasis is wisely on the driving beat and exuberant vocals. “Old Man Samson,” which the band will be promoting with a music video, illustrates the calling card: a raucous sing-along chorus and churning guitars that blaze along with relentless speed.

All the sheer double-time muscle of songs such as “Scar Your Lungs” is accented by occasional surprises: the twangy, almost country feel to the opening guitar in “Samson,” the crisp guitar solo that introduces the call-and-response vocals in “Loud & Clear.” Such touches _ more of them wouldn’t hurt _ start to elevate the band from its obvious influences (Green Day comes immediately to mind).

But, wait a minute, what’s this?

On three hidden tracks that close the album, WWB abruptly turns into a hip-hop group. The results are an interesting mixture of moody melodies, crackling live percussion and cocksure attitude that still sounds more like a band than a DJ.

Whether the band rocks or raps, “Minority Rules” shows that Whole Wheat Bread does it with considerable promise.

_Jim Abbott ___ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

_____ PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

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