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Review: Ramsey Lewis

Ramsey Lewis. Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Ramsey Lewis
(Union Chapel, July 2nd 2011. Part of Bluesfest London. Review by Roger Thomas)

I’m looking around the Union Chapel as the audience select their seats for the last of the five BluesFest London concerts in this house of worship. My ears home in on some of the conversations. I can feel the mood of expectancy in the air surrounding these ardent Ramsey Lewis admirers. Can this just be a concert? Or, since Lewis had to cancel his last London date, are some of these devotees anticipating the second coming of the messiah?

Tumultuous applause greets the arrival onstage of a dignified Ramsey Lewis. He walks on stage and stands graciously between the classic Fender Rhodes keyboard and the grand piano. Looking serene, he waits for the applause to die down before expressing his heartfelt thanks and giving some explanations.

Though the event is billed as the Sun Goddess performance Ramsey settles at the grand piano and starts off with a new composition, Perchance,taken from the Colors:The Ecology of Oneness suite. He fidgets and adjusts as he unfurls his musical tapestry of jazz, classical, gospel and blues.

Looking closely you can see how he conducts various parts of the proceedings with a serious eye that I’m sure would cause some musicians to sweat a little, but not these guys. Charles Heath – drums, Tim Grant – keyboards/vocals, Joshua Ramos – bass, Henry Johnson – guitar/vocals.

Every subtlety, every nuance of sound and shift in dynamics, these guys are on it. With such a great start to the evening an expression of pleasure fills all corner of the chapel.

Ramsey then announces, ‘this next song is from the Sun Goddess album’. Joshua Ramos kicks off Tambura with a funky electric bass with Ramsey joining in with a bluesy rhodes eventually being filled out by Tim Grant with various electric keyboard sounds then further driven and spiced up by Johnson and Heath. You can now see all the Sun Goddess worshipers –trance like– moving head and body to the groove as if to signify that, yes, this is what they came for.

But no, as much appreciation was shown as they nestled back into easy listening positions and reflected as Ramsey starts a solo piano rendition of the Lennon/McCartney Here There And Everywhere. Eventually being joined by some wonderful call and response interplay from Henry Johnson on guitar before the whole band is adding to the palette of sound which eventually segues into the Stylistics’ Betcha By Golly Wow.

Lewis has produced a proliferation of albums, scores and collaborations, always remaining contemporary. His mastery of mood and arrangement has led him down the various avenues of jazz, blues, soul, pop, gospel, classical and film music. This mastery was evident in another piece. Quotes from Melancholy Baby gave way to a gut wrenching arco bass solo over Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child. When Lewis suddenly and unexpectedly shifts the mood, he can locate and stir the very deepest of emotions.

Lewis made sure his sun worshippers were satiated, presenting them with Sun Goddess, a fresh arrangement suited to the current ensemble, in which Tim Grant put his array of electronic keyboards to effective use and Charles Heath’s drums delivering energy and a steady funky groove.

The audience’s rapturous applause yielded not one but two encores, the second of which was In Crowd. No need for questions, or ifs, or buts. Ramsey Lewis is In with this Crowd.
www.bluesfestlondon.com / Concert promoted by www.jazzfm.com

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  1. A magical evening in the wonderful setting of the Union Chapel, a gothic-style working church. At times one could have heard a pin drop as Ramsey Lewis paused before coaxing more soul from the keys – as if each note was precious. The beautiful, gentle improvisation on piano/guitar on Here There and Everywhere was a highlight. Joshua Ramos is a maestro of his double bass and Ramsey encouraged him to perform an extended solo which during which he squeezed everything he could out of the instrument. I've been a fan of Ramsey Lewis since hearing 'live' tracks like 'The In Crowd' in the mid 60s and it was a treat to hear it really live, played in a flamboyant way as an encore. My son, aged 16, more into Ossie Osbourne, Rammstein, etc. said he enjoyed the concert – who could fail to be impressed with the performance of Ramsey and his band as they ran through a varied repertoire (blues, gospel, 70s funk, jazz, pop) full of delights and surprises. The 90 minutes passed too quickly but I left the Union Chapel feeling satisfied at having seen a legend in brilliant action.

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