Ramsey Lewis – Dance of the Soul
Dance of the Soul
From his mid-1960’s pop chart heyday via The ‘In’ Crowd through his recent anchoring of two Urban Knights recordings and three 1990’s solo recordings, Chicago piano legend Ramsey Lewis blends a great love of jazz with his equal affinities for European classical music, gospel and a wide range of South American music. On his more recent projects he’s tended towards using his trademark graceful ivory approach as a springboard to gravitate in one specific direction. On the variegated Dance of the Soul, he is at his most adventurous, offering a sweeping overview of all the styles which have made him one of modern jazz’s most important and dynamic voices.
“My aim was to do an album that didn’t have an obvious concept, but musically emerged with something that held the varied elements together,” says Lewis, whose career spans over 65 albums since the mid- 1950s. “I wanted to steer towards a clean sound without layers of synthesizers, and in that context, let my musical personality run rampant – from the gospel music I play in church to my European classical influences and all spots in between.
“Those styles include classic American pop, from Sinatra to Sting and ’70’s soul to the flavors of Latin, South American, Central American, Caribbean and Cuban music. I also play more acoustic piano on this album than I have on recent projects. I wanted more sonic brilliance, a warm ivory sound to cut through and make a statement. My other outings, Between the Keys and the Urban Knights projects in particular, were more contemporary efforts. Here, I just wanted to let my creative juices flow and go where my heart wanted.”
Lewis is particularly proud of the team effort that went into the creation of Dance of the Soul by his loyal and talented, Chicago-based Ivory Pyramid staff. These include engineers Danny Leake and Harry Brotrnan, vocalists Donica Henderson and Steve Hardeman, keyboardist/composer Kevin Randolph, composer Lambert Anthony and Ramsey’s son Frayne T. Lewis, who produced the album and co-wrote three tracks.
The latest addition to the Lewis fold is young Chicago pianist Ryan Cohan, who contributed four key compositions to Dance of the Soul, including the swinging, tropical flavored title track (aka “Baile Del Alma”), the spirited, brassy samba “Lullaby,” an elegant, classically-influenced “Cancion” and the dramatic, haunting seven and a half minute closing solo piece “Cante Hondo,” which allows Lewis to explore his classical passions in a tender, late night setting.
“I had heard Ryan perform with the Obert Davis Group and Danny Leake’s wife suggested I consider his composition possibilities,” recalls Lewis. “He had put out an independent CD and I told him I liked the way he wrote. We sat down together and I told him the types of styles I wanted to incorporate on the album. Each week he came back with exactly what I had in mind. For instance, I told him I wanted a tango piece which started rubato, with the tempo going in and out. He came back with ‘Cancion.’ 1 couldn’t believe how in synch we were. It’s rare for me to use four songs by one outside composer, but his work is terrific. It’s actually ironic, because as a player, he’s more of the Bud Powell-Chick Corea school, where as I’m more Nat Cole, Earl Hines-Teddy Wilson school. “
Aside from the Ryan Cohan gems, Dance of the Soul features a hypnotic, Brazilian flavored take on Sting’s well-traveled “Fragile”; the sharp and thick street attitudes of “Sub Dude,” which mixes the Fender Rhodes vibe with chunky modern bass grooves and playful jazz piano solos; a multimovement approach to Teena Marie’s “Portuguese Love,” which eases from a soulful romance into a lively jam session; the gentle percussive “Fire and Rain,” which simulates the sonic experience of a jungle in a jazzy setting; the gently persuasive seduction of “Love’s Serenade”; and “Mercy and Grace, ” a rousing, gospel trip to Lewis’ regular church, singing and playing all praises with the help of the J.W. James Memorial AME choir, led by Lewis’ sister Gloria Johnson.
“When you are a creative artist, you’re always looking to find that close to 100 percent satisfaction level,” says Lewis. “Satisfaction is usually by degrees, and I can honestly say that Dance of the Soul brings me pretty close to that high mark. I’m pleased with its content, songs and integrity level. i sat down with my team before we started and said, ‘this is what I’m trying to achieve.’ Everyone came through brilliantly.”
Though Lewis did not write the title track, he believes that Dance of the Soul captures the idea of a musical muse that can’t be pinned down, as well as a message to the collective soul of the people of the world. A virtual trip around the Western Hemisphere, the album captures the multi-faceted essence of Ramsey Lewis. After over 40 years in the business, it’s no surprise that he’s still creating music so relevant to the human spirit.
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