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Ramsey Lewis: Dance of the Soul

Robert Spencer By

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Here's Ramsey Lewis doin' his thing, and even after all these years, nobody does it as ably or as amiably as Ramsey. On this disc there are, among the soloists, a fine trumpeter and an interesting guitarist, but the advance release leaves them anonymous. In any case, kudos to all. "Baile del Alma (Dance of the Soul)" is pleasingly jazzy. It thrusts ahead without any nonsense, but the (again anonymous) drumming is scattershot and inventive, instead of resorting to pallid funk grooves. The master shows off his fluency in the jazz idiom he forsaken perhaps out of the boredom of mastery.

"Fragile" is more laid-back, but it sho’ nuff cranks up that funk machine, and is less interesting as a result. Synthesizers and wispy vocalists create a dreamy mood, abetted by an acoustic guitar with a Spanish feel. "Sub Dude" is firmly in funk territory. If there is a human drummer, he shows no evidence of independent life. Mr. Lewis turns to the keyboards here, and turns in a cool, understated solo line – certainly he's a master of the idiom.

"Lullaby" reintroduces the piano, building gradually over a less-intrusive funk ostinato. "Portuguese Love" could have been recorded by 100 guys with the proper machinery; there's a pleasing vocalist on this track, but she isn't given much to do that would make me choose this disc over all the others that are just like it (On the other hand, perhaps you need another one). "Fire and Rain" starts with whistling – to get you out onto the dance floor, I guess, and rightly so, for it is the most driving of all the tunes. Wordless vocals and Lewis' ever-bright piano add some real drama – especially when Ramsey starts playing in a low, sonorous register. "Canción" is the highlight of the whole disc, for Lewis begins it unaccompanied, and shows the real emotional range of his playing in just a few seconds: if only he would turn in a full album like this! "Cante Hondo (Deep Song)" contains more of his impassioned and uniquely-voiced pianistics.

But "Love's Serenade" is back in synthesizer-soup land. Ramsey may have done it all first, but it's still hard to appreciate this sort of thing when so many have done it so well after him. And "Mercy and Grace" brings in more of da funk: glossy, high-sheen funk for a post-modern house party.

Certainly Lewis is a master pianist, and this is a pleasant, danceable disc.


Title: Dance of the Soul | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: GRP Records

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