It just doesn't seem possible this could be Lewis' 80th recording. It feels like it was yesterday when keyboardist, composer and radio show host Ramsey Lewis's mega hit, "The 'In' Crowd," was first on the radio. Since the eruption of that light swinging jazz track on radios throughout the world in 1965, Lewis has gone on to a career that would be the envy of everyone who has ever made an instrumental record.
In recent years Lewis' recordings have focused more on his jazz improvisation chops. Sure, the light swinging grooves and catchy melodies that have always been a hallmark of his style are still in ample abundance, but within the last decade his improvisational skills have been featured more and more. All of this continues to hold true on Lewis's newest CD, Taking Another Look.
It's always exciting to see an artist reinvent themselves, especially when they don't throw away any of their past. Building upon a rich tradition and long history of making music, Lewis has crafted a recording that sounds like something George Duke might have released back in the 1970s. The hip grooves, funky guitar backdrops, use of the Fender Rhodes, tasteful implementation of synth in leads and quasi-horn backgrounds, and tight rhythm section arrangements remind one of Duke's underappreciated and highly overlooked Reach For It and Don't Let Go recordings.
Perhaps what's most exciting about this recording is that it may very well be the best jazz oriented recording Lewis has ever made. At various times in his career he's been handicapped by various producers and record companies trying to package him in ways that played to the masses. The results were always less than spectacular. Here, however, just playing through a collection of six originals and four covers, including an Earth, Wind & Fire cover with Philip Bailey and Maurice and Verdine White on hand to give authenticity, Lewis sounds like he's having the time of his life.
The result includes some stunning piano solos, no matter the artist. His extended piano solo on "Intimacy" traverses not just lovely lines, but also plays with outside harmonic concepts woven into the texture so perfectly you have to pay particular attention in his harmonic cycling of phrases to catch everything he's doing.
With a Lewis recording one might think his cover of Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City" would just be a rehash of the original with little originality inserted, but on this recording you'd be more wrong than using Douglas Adams' universal number 42 for every answer on a calculus test. Lewis takes an extended solo that loses none of the excitement of the funky melody but still finds ways to say new things in the way he connects his improvisatory melodic ideas.
Other highlights include the lovely block chord voiced melody of "Betcha By Golly, Wow!," the sweet and too short solo on "Tambura," the ala Charlie Brown "Linus And Lucy" groove of "The Way She Smiles," and Henry Johnson's too few occasional guitar solos. For jazz fans who gave up on Lewis ever saying anything relevant, this recording will be a revelation.