Pianist Claire Ritter has a reputation for creating American jazz, which could be why when you listen to her latest release Waltzing the Splendor, you may find yourself envisioning a ballroom ambience with the music accompanying the vocal stylizing of Bing Crosby as Grace Kelly glides across a low-lit stage. Though Ritter’s songs are all instrumentals, the lyricism of her piano phrasings along with the whimsical patinas of vibraphonist Jon Metzger, violinist Jane Hart Brendle, cellist Ashima Scripp, and bassist Dave Holland, delivers an album with beautiful elocution liken to Crosby’s singing and Kelly’s dancing. It will make you wonder what ever happened to the days of ballroom dance that honed the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby. The turns in the phrases of Ritter’s music have traditional workings with a contemporary torque that gives ballroom jazz a current standing in today’s marketplace.
Maybe it is Ritter’s rendition of the classic tune "Over The Rainbow," which has been famously sung by Judy Garland in the past that gives Ritter’s music its ballroom dance flavor, but many of her songs leave the listener with an impression of ballroom lifts and low-lit lounge music especially in "Valsa" and "Integrity." Ritter composed four tracks for the album that are etudes for the piece Four Jazz Serenades For Georgia O’Keefe, Opus 23. These tracks range from lightly flowering piano keys and gently swinging motions in the strings for "Orange Red Yellow Gold" to whimsical pirouettes and long strides in "Painter’s Serenade" and slits of cascading piano keys knitted along "Waltzing The Splendor." The fluidity of the fly-by piano keys for "Echo Meadow" has optimistic hues, and the doddering keys of "Hot Pepper" produce a catchy trolley rhythm. The angelic sonorous of the xylophone and piano keys for "Carolina Canto" resonate like a children’s lullaby, while the tenderly strolling keys of "Telepathy" are impressionistic of a leisurely walk through a picturesque vista.
Ritter delves into more abstract jamming sessions and loosely fitted piano keys on "Suppose" and "Funky Feet," which brings her sojourn into the realm of avant angles and improvised creations, and the wiry bass grooves of "In Between" follows this approach. Ritter does perform a series of flashy piano jumps for "Punch" and "Hot Pepper," which gives these tunes a jazzy jingle vamp, but the album is dominant in sprinkling piano keys and lush silhouettes that may remind you of the music of Bing Crosby. Even though it was not Bing Crosby who inspired Claire Ritter’s 9th studio album Waltzing the Splendor.
Ritter reveals in the liner notes about the making of the album, "After visiting New Mexico and ‘Ghost Ranch’ a few years ago, I became enthralled with Georgia O’Keefe’s independent spirit as an abstract artist. Of course, all art is connected and the musical ideas started flowing. I could see and feel the piano and strings in the desert.... All I can figure is composer meets painter - let imagination and nature say the rest."
Waltzing the Splendor is a sonic portrait of America’s natural landscape. With a catch phrase like "Going Green" stuck in everyone’s thoughts today, Claire Ritter has sonically gone green interpreting the greenery of America’s pastures into music. If you never thought of America’s natural landscapes as giant ballrooms, Waltzing the Splendor lets you realize it for yourself.