Dominic's SSR Pick: August 25, 2022

Greetings everyone. How was your week? All well, I hope.

This week I had a good humbling, learning experience with regards record collecting, proving that no matter how much you know, you really know nothing and to never assume the knowledge you have in your head is in fact correct. What am I talking about, you ask? I’ll tell you and make it my staff pick for this week.

So, anyone who has discussed music with me or flipped through the L section on my jazz shelf will know that I love Ramsey Lewis. I probably have several dozen of his albums, not counting singles. I love his early trio recordings from the late 50s and early sixties, his mid-sixties pop period, and the funk and fusion albums from the late sixties and seventies. They’re all great and because they sold well are easy and cheap to find for the most part. Any visit to the bargain bin of most record stores will turn up at least one of his records. If you see his name on the Argo, Chess or Cadet label and later Columbia, you can buy with confidence.

We have several here at the store as I type this. I thought that I pretty much had everything of his that I needed to own bar perhaps one or two titles. I always check for condition upgrade copies or maybe a stereo or mono variant that I don’t have whenever I am in a store. One title that I always see is a collection called Golden Hits from 1973. I have always assumed that it was a straight-ahead collection of his hits from the previous decade and that because I have all those records, I didn’t need it. Oh, how wrong I was. Yes, the album is a collection of older hits, but these versions are newly recorded versions. Normally when you see a “hits” collection and the words “newly recorded with one or more original members” the rule of thumb is to avoid. That’s worse than “electronically recorded to re-produce stereo”. However, with Golden Hits what we have is Ramsey Lewis with his new rhythm section consisting of Morris Jennings on drums and Cleveland Eaton on bass, who together were in the middle of a fertile funky fusion period and releasing some really good records. I can recommend any of the albums Ramsey Lewis recorded, but those between 1968 and 1976 are all particularly good. He embraced the changes in the culture, the switch to amplified and electric instruments and the move to more Afro-centric music. Along with Herbie Hancock and other progressive jazz players, Ramsey fully utilized the sounds capable from the new electric pianos such as the Fender Rhodes, incorporating the use of multi-plex and wah-wah pedals to imitate the funky sounds of an electric guitar. These new sounds are used to full effect on the reinterpretations of the tunes selected here, making the versions of The In Crowd, Hi-Heel Sneakers and Wade In The Water sound quite different to the originals and much more contemporary sounding. Highlights are many, but the version of Hang On Sloopy is good and almost unrecognizable, and the take on Slipping Into Darkness allows the musicians to stretch out and deliver a real gem. I quite like the tracks Carmen and Delilah that close side one and open side two, respectively. These two covers taken from an opera and film musical really show off the bass work from Eaton and with added percussion and effects are nice slow burners.

I really can’t believe that after all these years I hadn’t noticed the true nature of these recordings. I’m such an idiot. All I had to do was read the title correctly and flip to the rear sleeve to the liner notes, and all would have been revealed. As I said at the top, sometimes you think you know something, but in reality, you don’t. I had assumed the wrong thing and that became my truth. It wasn’t and as a result I had deprived myself all these years from a record that I would enjoy. I guess never too late. I’m taking it as a positive. Now I have a “new” Ramsey Lewis album to enjoy. Bonus. You can’t beat finding a new to yourself album by one of your favorite artists, can you? Particularly if it’s good. You also can’t beat a bargain bin record that punches way above its weight. I know I’ve said that many times before, but I’ll preach that until my dying day. There are several records by Ramsey Lewis that if they had come out on a private label by an unknown artist would now be commanding top dollar based on the musical content. These records were hits however, and because they sold millions are now cheap and easy to find. Those already onboard the Ramsey train know what I am talking about, but for the rest of you, do yourselves a favor and scoop these records up when you see them. Some of my favorite albums, in no particular order are, Sun Goddess, Goin’ Latin, Funky Serenity, Back To The Roots, Mother Nature’s Son, Maiden Voyage, Them Changes, Another Voyage, Upendo Ni Pamoja, Wade In The Water, The In Crowd and Hang On Ramsey. I could go on. Even his couple of Christmas records are good jazz groovers. Ramsey was an incredible musician himself and he had the best playing alongside him. His initial trio was Eldee Young on bass and Isaac “Red” Holt on drums, who themselves later formed their own group, Young Holt Unlimited. Their places were taken up by Cleveland Eaton on bass and Maurice White on drums. White later left to form Earth, Wind & fire and the drum stool was occupied by Morris Jennings. Maurice White came back to produce the Sun Goddess album for Ramsey, and Earth, Wind & Fire play on the record. That’s a nice soul jazz record. It reached number one on the Billboard soul charts in 1974.

Anyway, Ramsey Lewis is brilliant. Up there with Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones, to name two other American icons. You’ll always get a top-notch performance from him, and he is still at it. Over eighty albums along, several of them gold and with three Grammy wins so far, he has had quite a career. Hang on Ramsey!

Thanks for reading. See you next time - Dom

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