By Charles Hallman
Ramsey Lewis’ recent two-day engagement at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis May 20-21 showed the half-century-career jazz pianist still is as fresh as ever. Lewis has released some 80 albums to his credit. The classically trained pianist has done jazz, gospel and blues throughout his career. He also hosted radio shows as well over the years.
He and his Electric Band’s one-hour set began with the classic “Wade in the Water.” “I started playing it at our church, but not like that,” Lewis joked afterwards.
Throughout the show, the three-time Grammy winner deftly swung back and forth between his classic Steinway piano and the mini-electric keyboard so effortlessly that not a missed beat was noticed by the constantly head-nodding and foot-tapping crowd at the Dakota.
Lewis tickled the ivories lovingly on “Love Song” from his Taking Another Look (2011) offering. It was one of two remakes on that album that Lewis played that night.
The second was “Sun Goddess,” which remains one of my all-time favorite tunes. I played the Sun Goddess album to death when it first came out during my sophomore year in college in the mid-1970s. The title track’s first three notes jumped out as a life of its own through my first “real” stereo that I had recently bought.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, then you wouldn’t be able to relate with me and the rest of the Dakota audience when Lewis asked us to join him as he did the vocals for “Sun Goddess,” first sung by Maurice White and Earth, Wind and Fire in 1974. I politely declined the invitation but still enjoyed it nonetheless.
The only downer of the night was Lewis’ gospel-themed medley, which started off too slow and disjointed with an original piece but eventually picked up steam when he played John Coltrane’s “Dear Lord,” topped by an excellent drum solo by Charles Heath, who Lewis and the other band mates politely left on the stage alone. But when they returned, Lewis closed the medley on a sacred high.
His encore was “The In Crowd,” a 1960s cover hit, sprinkled with a little “Downtown” and the Sex in the City opening theme.
It was my first time seeing Lewis in person — I left very satisfied.
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