Jazz CD Reviews

Ramsey Lewis And His Electric Band – Ramsey, Taking Another Look – Hidden Beach

Ramsey Lewis is still the man, and this one is evidence of that.

Published on November 6, 2011

Ramsey Lewis And His Electric Band – Ramsey, Taking Another Look – Hidden Beach

Ramsey Lewis And His Electric Band – Ramsey, Taking Another Look – Hidden Beach Records   HBRCD 0015, 52:36 **** 1/2:

(Ramsey Lewis – Steinway; Fender Rhodes; Henry Johnson – guitar; Mike Logan – keyboards; Joshua Ramos – bass; Charles Heath – drums)

The sixties impacted every facet of culture, especially music.  Jazz, which had morphed into hard bop and cool, was no exception. Miles Davis led a movement incorporating some of the more prevalent music including funk, blues and r&b. At the core of this revolution was an increased utilization of electronic instrumentation. One of the earliest forays into this genre was Wes Montgomery’s A Day In The Life.  Several established stars emerged with a melodic, down tempo take, sometimes referred to as contemporary or smooth jazz. Notable releases emanated from George Benson Chick Corea, Joe Sample, Bob James and groups like Weather Report. West Coast label, CTI Records became leaders in the new movement, prompting jazz artists to reach a diverse audience.

One of these pioneers was the extraordinary pianist, Ramsey Lewis. Lewis had become a star, recording hits like “Hang On Sloopy”, “In Crowd” and “Wade In The Water”. All of these songs   were performed with a basic acoustic piano trio. Ramsey’s vision incorporated the classical music of his youth, and church background into a reflective awareness of popular music. A radio DJ, he was influenced by the cross fertilizations of seventies music. As a composer, he would infuse melodies with blues, bebop, and a dash of modern classicism. With creative inspiration, Sun Goddess was recorded in Chicago backed by Earth Wind And Fire. The commitment to the project was total and without reservation. The album re-booted the career of this “renaissance man”, winning his fifth Gold Album.

Cut to 2011, and Ramsey Lewis has decided to re-record certain pieces from Sun Goddess. While some might consider this as low “bar setting”, it does not do justice to Ramsey, Taking Another Look. Lewis’ lyrical, melodic play has not diminished with time. The new ensemble brings focused energy as well.  Opening the album is “Intimacy”, a song not being revisited. With a funky bass line (Joshua Ramos), Lewis displays a virtuosic touch on acoustic piano. Delicate leads alternate with cascading flourishes as the synthesizers (Mike Logan) drape string accents around the accessible jams.  A new cover of the Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow” maintains the classic slower r&b groove with uncanny sophistication. Fans of soulful fusion will appreciate the forceful guitar hooks (Henry Johnson) in “Sharing Her Journey”. Lewis’ classic piano style is full of bluesy nuance on “The Way She Smiles”.

Of special interest is the reworking of several Sun Goddess selections. “Love Song”, achingly elegant nearly forty years ago is still expressive, and his expertise on Fender Rhodes enlivens this album. Backed by the group’s bravado, including a nimble synthesizer solo, the song is fresh. Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” is full of vitality with percolating electric piano groove solos, and plenty of attitude. Even with a walking acoustic bass introduction, the sensual pulse of “Jungle Strut” is brilliant. The accentuated breaks, colorful Rhodes, and steady rhythms are infectious.  “Tambura” also exerts a jazzy funkiness. Drummer Charles Heath shines on a swaggering drum solo. For any fans of the original recording, there is a re-edit of “Sun Goddess” that defines seventies jazz. The dance vibe and stylized, hypnotic vocals of Earth Wind And Fire are timeless.

Ramsey Lewis is still the man, and Ramsey, Taking Another Look is evidence of that.

TrackList: Intimacy; Tambura; Love Song; Living For The City; Betcha By Golly Wow; To Know Her; The Way She Smiles; Jungle Strut; Sharing Her Journey; Sun Goddess

—Robbie Gerson




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