Album review: RAMSEY LEWIS – Funky Serenity, Solar Wind, Sun Goddess (reissue)

RAMSEY LEWIS - Funky Serenity (reissues)

BGO [Release date 18.05.18]

I immediately recognised three of the albums on this 2-disc four album compilation.  In fact that’s the great thing about BGO releases.  They tend to bring together a series of albums spanning a couple of discs, offering great value and a great way to replace and replenish (or re-buy) your musical youth.

Ramsey Lewis is best known for his 1960s hits ‘Wade In The Water’ and ‘The In Crowd’ which appear here on the album Newly Recorded, All-Time, Non-Stop Golden Hits.

In the 1970s he released a series of albums for Columbia which pursued a soul jazz vibe and started a new era for his music.  Not unlike Booker T & The MGs in always including a sprinkling of cover versions but, compared to that hallowed soul/R&B  outfit, Lewis was more of a soul jazzer.  But he was never as jazzy as someone like contemporary Herbie Hancock or Weather Report which makes his music far more accessible and kind to the ear.

Lewis’ instrumental panache is evident on 1973′s Funky Serenity, whether on Rhodes  or concert piano.  And the upbeat sixties spirit of ‘Wade In The Water’ is omnipresent on ‘What It Is!’

Throughout this period he was accompanied by Cleveland Eaton (bass) and Morris Jennings (drums) providing a wonderful backbeat and groove, especially on a track like ‘My Love For You’.

The curveball in this second album for Columbia is a cover of ‘Nights In White Satin’ featuring Ed Green’s violin which although juxtaposing the predominant funk workouts (of which ‘Dreams’ is the most “progressive”) is nevertheless intriguing.

1974′s Solar Wind was produced by Steve Cropper and saw Lewis expanding the trio format  with contributions from additional musicians including Cropper adding guitar to several tracks as well as compositions.

Highlights include Cropper’s  ‘Sweet And Tender You’ , ‘Love For A Day’ and the title track, sounding like Booker T on steroids,  whilst the longer ‘Jamaican Marketplace’ revives the classic sixties trio vibe along with a cover of Sonny Rollins’ ‘The Everywhere Calypso’.

This album is more immediate and mainstream and provided a walkway to the following release, in 1974.  Sun Goddess is generally regarded as Lewis’ landmark album in the seventies and marked a collaboration with the production and writing talent of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White.  White had actually worked with Lewis in his trio for a time in the sixties when they recorded for the legendary Chess label.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the album’s glorious title track (and ‘Hot Dawgit’) has a strong EWF vibe with additional assistance from that band’s Philip Bailey and Verdine White.  Given that Maurice White and his crew were beginning their assault on the charts at this time, Lewis would get a much-deserved boost in terms of wider attention/association.

This excellent slip-cased collection is enhanced by a reprint of the original liner notes and a new essay by Charles Waring, plus new remastering.   And if you’re tempted, BGO also has several other Ramsey Lewis packages; the obvious next base would be the four album on 2-CD set which takes the story from 1975-1977.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.


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