Ramsey Lewis – 1968 – Mother’s Nature Son
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Review by Andre S. Grindle
About five years ago, there started to be a buzz regarding a 1969 album by Ramsey Lewis where he interpreted ten songs from The Beatles White Album. That was a Beatle album I always admired for its sprawling,beautifully crafted songwriting and rhythmically soulful attitude. Later on I read a bit more about the album in Wax Poetic’s magazine and found the vinyl album at Dr.Records,a favorite local record store of mine. Story goes that Charles Stepney was fascinated by the production brilliance of George Martin. And the way in which he presented the Beatles already strong material. Ramsey Lewis had already shown a strong affinity for his own Chicago variation on stride/orchestral piano playing,and the accompanying arrangements Stepney provided for him on albums such as Maiden Voyage. Also his reputation as a strong interpretive musician would function extremely well with the constructivist nature of the Beatles newest material. So Stepney bought in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to play with Ramsey,along with a wild new electronic instrument: the MOOG synthesizer.
With interludes of reverbed, Afrocentric poly rhythmic drumming at unusual time intervals and swelling symphonies of pitch bent Moog effects interspersing most of these songs the title song that opens up the album expands on and improvises on the original melody with epic proportions as Ramsey’s symphonic style piano playing blends into near perfect harmony with the full orchestra throughout that,”Rocky Raccoon“,”Julia“,”Dear Prudence” and the closing “Black Bird”. “Back In The USSR“, straight up rock ‘n roll in its original form is done up here with an intensely funky Chicago stew with Ramsey jamming out on some inspired and grooving harmonic clavinet solos. “Cry Baby Cry“,”Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Expect For Me And My Money” and “Sexy Sadie” also bring out that same rhythmically groove bluesy soul/jazz attitude-showcasing how truly funky these songs were as recorded by the Beatles in the first place. And of course Ramsey just brings out the funk as much as he can on them all. “Good Night” is turned into a soulful symphony. Starting and ending very much in the spirit of the orchestral original,a flamboyant drum solo enters into a funky soul/jazz bridge before returning to the way it all starts.
On many levels,this album put Ramsey and Charles Stepney just a little ahead of the game in terms of interpretive instrumental artistry. Proving once and for all that sometimes,a musician or any type of artist for that matter may be just a little ahead of what an audience might expect of them. At first the Beatles might seem to come from a different world than Ramsey Lewis. But this was by no means true. Having sought out musicians like Billy Preston to play with them, the Beatles music always was full of rich soul. And Ramsey not only recognized this about them, but what their songs might do to help shape his music in the future. Again Ramsey Lewis was very forward thinking on this album-seeming to recognize that jazz was beginning to fall into certain easy patterns of old standards that were being recycled again and again. Jazz musicians in the soul and rock era needed new themes to improvise on to expand their grooves outward. And considering the mix of rock and soul on the Beatles latter recordings? These songs were ideal choices for that expansion. I also wonder too if John, Paul, George and Ringo were in any way influenced by Stepney’s use of MOOG here when they used the new instrument later in the year on their final album Abbey Road. Due in part to Ramsey and Stepney’s cinematic, futurist funky jazz outlook on this album? Have to think if this might be the first time an interpreter of Beatles music influenced the future music of who they were interpreting.
One of those superb funky revelations I highly recommend.