Thursday, January 8, 2015

Concert Review: Ramsey Lewis and Philip Bailey at the Dakota Jazz Club

Poster for Ramsey Lewis and Philip Bailey at the Dakota, 2015.

Ramsey Lewis playing "The Party's Over," at the Dakota Jazz Club, January 7, 2015. (Photo by Mark Taylor.)
The great jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis teamed up with Philip Bailey, the lead vocalist for Earth, Wind, and Fire at the Dakota Jazz Club last night, and it was a terrific show. I’ve been a fan of Ramsey Lewis’s piano playing for a long time, and I previously saw him at the Dakota in 2012. Lewis’s backing band, called his “electric band,” was the same group that appeared with him in 2012. They’re a great group, comprised of Tim Gant on keyboards, Henry Johnson on guitar, Joshua Ramos on bass, and Charles Heath on drums. Lewis has always been known for his great trios, starting in the 1950’s and 1960’s, with Eldee Young on bass and Redd Holt on drums, and Ramos and Heath continue the tradition. Johnson is an excellent soloist, with a clean, uncluttered sound that brings to mind great players like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Gant adds flourishes on keyboards and synthesizer that bring colorful accents to the music.

At the age of 79, Ramsey Lewis continues to shine on piano. Lewis’s playing is an exquisite blend of all different influences, from gospel, classical, and jazz, to soul, funk, and rhythm and blues. Lewis’s sound can be bluesy or soft and gentle, depending on the song. He opened the show with Duke Ellington’s classic “Satin Doll,” which showed off his group well, with an excellent solo from Henry Johnson on guitar. Next Lewis played a beautiful ballad version of “All My Love Belongs To You,” which was a hit for R&B singer Bull Moose Jackson in 1948. (Lewis told that audience that information.) I loved Lewis’s playing on “All My Love Belongs To You.” His ballad style is so gorgeous, I could listen to him play for hours. Lewis reached back to the past for his next song, “Black Orpheus Medley,” where he weaved together several songs from Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s score to the 1959 movie Black Orpheus, which helped usher in the bossa nova craze of the 1960’s. Lewis’s version of “Black Orpheus Medley” uses the song “Manha de Carnaval” as an anchor that he keeps coming back to. The entire group did a great job of switching dynamics as the medley moved from swinging songs to ballads. 

After “Black Orpheus Medley” Philip Bailey came out and joined the group. Bailey played percussion and sang in his beautiful soulful voice. Bailey opened with a swinging version of the jazz standard “Caravan.” Bailey also sang an excellent version of the Antonio Carlos Jobim song “Wave,” which is one of my favorite Jobim songs. Bailey is a charismatic live performer, and he made sure the crowd stayed involved in the show. Bailey’s singing mixed very well with Lewis’s playing, and Lewis did a superb job of accompanying Bailey’s vocals. Bailey sang a fun medley of some of Earth, Wind and Fire’s biggest hits, which included crowd pleasers like “Shining Star,” and “September.” Lewis also played his biggest hits, “The In Crowd” and “Sun Goddess,” before coming back and closing the show with a lovely solo piano version of “The Party’s Over.” Lewis and Bailey have known each other for a long time, as Bailey appeared on Lewis’s classic 1974 album “Sun Goddess.” They clearly enjoy performing together. Lewis has a strong connection to Earth, Wind and Fire, as Maurice White, the group’s founder, replaced Redd Holt on drums in the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1966. White played with Lewis for several years before leaving to start Earth, Wind and Fire. 

Lewis and Bailey put on an excellent show, and if you’re a fan of Ramsey Lewis or of Earth, Wind and Fire, you’ll have a great time hearing some fantastic music.

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