Whether considering his style jazzy pop or popular jazz, Chicagoan Ramsey Lewis has always kept one foot firmly in the jazz mainstream, often tapping to a gospel beat. Here the pianist has recorded an all-original set that will satisfy both audiences by mixing classical elegance with blues preaching. Backed by veteran colleagues, bassist Larry Gray's technical prowess and drummer Leon Joyce's exuberant beats perfectly complement their leader's serene composure.
Culling tunes he wrote for the ballet To Know Her..., and from a suite for piano trio and string quartet, Lewis presents them in pared-down versions. Tracks like the episodic "To Know Her is to Love Her," the lush, through-composed "Clouds in Reverie," the uptown swagger of "The Way She Smiles" and a pensive solo rendition of "Long Before She Knew"all from the balletdemonstrate his encyclopedic grasp of voicings and techniques, delicately expressing his train of musical thought. Rounding out the menu are numbers like "The Spark," "Conversation" and "Rendezvous," varying the mood from gentle to festive.
Live at New York's BB King's (Nov. 28, 2009) only confirmed that little, if anything, of what this talented trio plays needs fixing in the mix. Revisiting "To Know Her," "The Way She Smiles" and "Conversation" along with an arrangement of a movement from Brahms' second symphony, by the fifth number, a Ray Charles
-style rendition of "Wade in the Water," things got funky and stayed that way, segueing through spirituals like "Precious Lord," Duke Ellington
's "Come Sunday" and "Motherless Child" as well as snippets of soul-jazz standards like "On Broadway," "Listen Hear" and "After Hours." The encore, starting with an obligatory stab at "The In Crowd," followed by a succession of bluesy vamps, more than satisfied the house.
Personnel: Ramsey Lewis: piano; Larry Gray: bass; Leon Joyce: drums.