By Doug Levine
You would think that anyone whose nickname is “Captain Fingers” must really be good with his hands. Either that or there’s a brand new superhero battling for ratings on Cartoon Network. Well, to his loyal following of fans, guitarist Lee Ritenour (aka “Captain Fingers”) is considered a jazz superhero, knocking out by his own count close to 45 albums since 1976.
Lee earned the nickname during his early days as a session player, traveling from gig to gig with a collection of 20 guitars, including his signature Gibson L-5 and ES-335 models. His song “Captain Fingers” became the title of his third solo album. That was the first Lee Ritenour album I ever bought and I was hooked. He sounded like a cross between the legendary Wes Montgomery and prolific studio guitarist Larry Carlton.
Lee’s new album, which was released in September, is called “Rhythm Sessions,” and the emphasis is on the word rhythm. Now 60, he has performed with some of the best and brightest rhythm sections in the world, and this project is no exception. After all these years, I’m still in awe of his smooth guitar lines and melodic arrangements. And, I’m always amazed by his generosity in the studio. Here’s Lee with veterans George Duke and Stanley Clarke in a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album.
Lee says he loves making solo albums, but his biggest thrill comes from making music with great musicians. “This is a gift I don’t take for granted,” he writes in the liner notes for his new album. Here, Lee is paired with award-winning vocalist Kurt Elling on “River Man.”
Lee says he had Elling’s voice in mind when he chose to record Nick Drake’s “River Man,” a song that also features Dave Grusin, Nathan East and Will Kennedy.
You might also recognize these guest stars from “Rhythm Sessions”: Chick Corea, Marcus Miller, Larry Goldings and Christian McBride. And how about this? Lee’s 19-year-old son Wesley plays drums on one track. Lee is known for supporting up-and-coming musicians. In 2010, he launched his International 6-String Theory Guitar Competition. Winners of this year’s inaugural rhythm section contest got to perform on the track “Punta Del Sol.” They are keyboardist Hans de Wild from Holland, drummer Selim Munir from Turkey, and, from the U.S., bassist Michael Feinberg and pianist Demetrius Nabors.