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Ramsey Lewis Songs From the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A credible jazz album for those who never knew they liked the genre.

Lloyd Bradley 2010

As a serious and respected jazz pianist, Ramsey Lewis has had more than the expected number of chart hits during his 40-odd-year career. But that’s always been the cool thing about him: as a serious and respected jazz pianist, he’s never felt the need to perpetually prove it by showing off and making his playing and writing difficult to get into.

His style and arrangements are always relaxed and structurally conventional enough for immediate appeal, but the jazz man in him keeps it more than merely interesting on several different levels beyond that. The added bonus with Songs From the Heart is that Lewis himself composed every tune on it – the first time he’s done so over an entire album. He has written to his strengths, meaning the balance between straightforward and intricate is pretty near perfect.

Immediate highlights include the opening track To Know Her Is to Love Her and Conversation. The former veers towards a jazz-funk crossover – no bad thing when it’s this good – and sets down a rhythm strong enough to allow Lewis to drive forward on the keys, rousing the bass and drums to push it harder. Yet as it sweeps us along, there are enough changes of direction to keep us listening. Conversation is the opposite: delicate, nuanced and all about the shadings, switching pitch and accents as it washes over you, leaving far more of an impression than you might have thought possible.

Between these two extremes of Lewis’s art are such gems as Rendezvous and The Spark, both lively, soulful workouts. Sharing Her Journey adds a violin to create a veritable suite as it soars and swoops through eight minutes, while he unaccompanied Watercolours rounds the set off with both delicacy and verve.

It’s a mark of how much Lewis understands what people want from a piece of music that he remains one of jazz’s most broadly popular figures, yet still holds on to an unshakeable degree of respectability. With Songs From the Heart, though, he goes a little further in both directions and has created both a perfectly credible jazz album and one with huge appeal for people who think they don’t like jazz.

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