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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Ramsey Lewis - Funk Serenity/Golden Hits/ Solar Winds/ Sun Goddes [BGO Records - 2018]

Here from BGO is another double CD reissue of Ramsey Lewis releases- bringing together four early-to-mid 1970’s albums from this highly versatile & prolific Chicago based pianist & composer. Each album gets a great recent remastering, and each highlights Ramsey flair for both approachable jazz ‘n’ fusion  & creative covers.

As with all the reissues on BGO, we get a nicely classy presentation to this set- with the two CD’s coming in a slim-line double CD case. This features a glossy twenty-page inlay booklet that takes in full credits for each of the four albums, along with a new thirteen-page write-up about the four albums & Lewis career in the 1970’s. With the whole thing coming in a colored card slip sleeve.

Each CD takes in two albums- and these follow a chronological path- so the first disc opens with 1973’s Funky Serenity. The album takes in nine tracks and features a four-piece line-up of Ramsey- Steinway Grand Piano,  Wurlitzer electric piano,  Fender Rhodes, and electric Harpsichord. Cleveland Eaton - bass, electric bass, percussion. Morris Jennings - drums, congas, percussion. And  Ed Green – percussion & electric violin.

And fitting its title there is a fair bit of ‘funkiness’ going on here, though it’s nicely mixed in & distilled by both grooving/ mellow jazz flavours, and more freaky fusion elements- that bring to mind Miles Davis Electric period. We go from a wonderfully moody-yet groovy instrumental cover of Soul classic "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right"- which has been covered by everyone from Luther Ingram-to-Rod Stewart. It finds a wholesome & slow head nodding blend of smooth-yet- taught bass, layers of grooving electric piano, and a simple yet moody percussion line.
Onto the slightly more edgy &  seared "Nights In White Satin"- which finds this classic pop-rock tune reborn with a blend of showy & dramatic piano cascades, blunt funk bass line, and swirling/ fiery violin. Through to the epic eight-minute "Dreams"- which moves from chattering & unsettling fusion discord, onto grooving electric piano & bass jams edged by tight latin rhythms, through to reverb organ freak-outs & sparse rhythmic base, onto blend of trippy bass fluctuations, cascading percussive quirkiness & scrubbing violin jam-out. As a whole Funky Serenity nicely sits between slight edgy but still populous jazz, and slightly edgier fusion- all making for a nicely unpredictable ride.

Second, on disc one we have another album from 1973  Ramsey Lewis' Newly Recorded All-Time Non-Stop Golden Hit- this nine-track affair saw Ramsey re-recording the more popular/ known tracks he released on both the Argo & Cadet jazz labels.  And the line-up for this album goes down to a three-piece of Ramsey- Piano & Electric Piano. Eaton- Bass & Electric Bass, and Jennings- Percussion & drums.  And this album certainly sees focus on the more populous/ melodic side of things- with a fairly bit of groove & funk still present. We open with the jaunting & repeating funk bass, and up-front piano melody, and sang yea's of "Hang on Sloppy". Through to the sleek bass & cascading ethnic percussion, and reverbing electric piano melody & grooving of "Carmen".  Ending with the energetic & jiving boogie-woogie piano & funky electric organ vibe of “The ‘In’ Crowd”. As an album, this is certainly more to please the larger more passing audience- though it still retains Ramsey flair for creatively & musical sleek-ness.

 

Onto the second disc, and first, we have 1974’s "Solar Wind". This nine-track affair sees a much ‘electric focus- with Ramsey playing synth’s, ARC & moogs. He's joined by Eaton on acoustic & electric bass and Morris on drums & percussion. With three of the nine tracks featuring additional Moog work by James L. Hersen, and guitar on four of the nine tracks by Steve Cropper. This album features both original tunes, and some really neat covers- for example cover wise we move from detailed scratching & tapping lined percussion on "The Everywhere Calypso"- which is topped by elegant & urgent electric piano lines. We get seriously smooth & spacey synth edged cover of "Summer Breeze"- with grooving electric piano, and effective synth whooshers & pulls. And on the originals, the title track is a great blend of galloping melodic electric piano & jiving electric guitar. And on "Love For Day" we get an easy & breezing mix of tight funk strutting, and flamboyant electric piano passion. Of the four albums here, I say Solar Wind is my favorite as it has such a great blend of reimaging cover & interesting original compositions.


Lastly, we have Sun Goddess- this is also from 1974, and offers up seven tracks. And this album became one of Ramsey biggest selling albums of the70’s- with two charting singles "Hot Dawgit" and "Sun Goddess. The album saw Ramsey joining forces with Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. The sound here has much more populous leaning again- seeing a mix accessible fusion, as well as a few R&B elements.  We move from the title track with its blend of soaring atmospheric synths, strutting funk groove & Whites soulful harmonies- this track also has get some very glassy sax, electric organ, and guitar breakdowns along it's eight minutes thirty length. Through to almost P-funk meets Hancock like vibe "Jungle Strut"- with it’s jiving Rhodes, pumping horns, squelchy synth, and weird chattering voices & laughter. Finish off with the trippy & haze funk meets shifting synth effects & grooving Rhodes of the final track "Gemini Rising". Again Sun Goddess is another very classy album; see Ramsey once again managing balance accessibility with creativity.


In conclusion, this is another great four album reissue of 1970’s Ramsey Lewis albums- you should be able to be picking it up for around £13.00( $16.00), which is a really bargain.  I’m very much looking forward to future Lewis on BGO.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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