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Music Review: Ramsey Lewis – Songs From The Heart; Ramsey Plays Ramsey

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One of the things I enjoy about reviewing new albums is that it sometimes opens my eyes to artists who might be a little unfamiliar to me. But it's also a pleasure when I rediscover a legendary three-time Grammy winner who is still a vibrant and active force in music. That would be Ramsey Lewis.

Songs From The Heart; Ramsey Plays Ramsey, his debut on the Concord label, is a collection of many of his recent compositions. Specifically, it includes eight pieces from his score for the Joffrey Ballet Company's 2007 presentation of the ballet To Know Her…, and four songs from Muses And Amusements, his 2008 appearance with the Turtle Island Quartet.

Both shows were the result of commissions from the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park (near Chicago), and added up to an impressive burst of creativity. It also reawakened Lewis' composing instincts. "I'm like a kid on Christmas morning all over again. For me, it's all about the music."

It's all about the music for jazz fans too, and this album furnishes some solid aural pleasures. On most of the tracks, Lewis is joined in the recording studio by his familiar cohorts, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce, and both do a first class job backing up the star's sparkling keyboard. A few of the songs from the ballet are solo efforts for Lewis, and even unaccompanied he doesn't disappoint. The best among those was  probably the softly introspective "Watercolors," although I also liked "Clouds In Reverie," which evokes the dreaminess of its name.

Among the pieces from the full trio, I found myself gravitating to those with a Latin beat, including the delicious "Touching, Feeling, Knowing," and "Rendezvous." In a different mood but still very enjoyable was "To Know Her Is To Love Her," a song reminiscent of some of the best of Lewis' past compositions.

Overall, a solid and impressive effort from the star. Recommended for fans of mainstream jazz, or any music lover who appreciates the legacy of Ramsey Lewis.

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