Ramsey Lewis ‘Routes’ / ‘Three Piece Suite’ (BBR) 4/5

ramsey_lewisChicagoan keyboardist Ramsey Lewis is, perhaps, best known to music fans in the UK both for his collaborative 1970s album with Earth, Wind and Fire ‘Sun Goddess’ and to longer term soul fans for his priceless 45s on Cadet that effortlessly fused jazz and soul grooves. This duet of albums find him in post-‘Sun Goddess’ territory, picking up on that album on the 198o album ‘Routes’ and then entering into smoother jazz terrain on the follow ‘Three Piece Suite’ (1981). The first was largely produced by Larry Dunn and consequently has virtually the entire Earth, Wind and Fire band accompanying on five numbers. The latter group’s trademark wordless vocal harmonies infuse the opening track ‘Whisper zone’ with Lewis on fender Rhodes while funkier climbs are reached on the bass led ‘Colors in space’. The collective horns return on the mid-tempo burner ‘Caribbean Blue’ and in general the Dunn produced tracks feature some lovely Brazilian-inspired percussion with the combination of acoustic piano and larger ensemble working up a storm on the appropriately titled ‘High Point’. If there is any criticism one could make of this recording, it is that it lacks some lead vocals for a bit of variety. Its follow up album is a typical example of early 1980s jazz-fusion with good and bad points. On the plus side, ‘So much more’ is an elegant and sedate piece with Ramsey at his very best and this was a popular tune of the day. There are shades of Kool and the Gang on the background audience accompaniment to ‘Lakeshore cowboy’ while on the minus side ‘Romance me’ slips into easy listening territory with guitar riffs taking a leaf out of George Benson’s book.

Tim Stenhouse