Ramsey Lewis Trio,
Time Flies
(Narada, 2004)

There aren't many opportunities in life for a do-over, but on Time Flies Ramsey Lewis take the opportunity to apply all the perspective and expertise he has gained over the course of his nearly 50-year career and has produced a beautiful jazz recording consisting mostly of selections from various points in his history, presented in new versions that sound so fresh that unless you were familiar with the originals, you might not know that this was an album of remakes. In the right hands, such a project is hardly a retread; great material gets improved upon, informed with everything the artist knows now but didn't know then. Lewis is just such an artist.

There are two jazz interpretations of classical pieces by Bach and Brahms, both of which transcend the boundaries of genre. The "Andante Theme from Brahms 3rd Symphony" performed on piano, bass and drums opens the album and after a solo piano intro, transports this beautiful melody to a Chicago nightclub where the jazz is smooth and swinging, beautifully played and recorded. The "Air from Suite #3 by J.S. Bach" is a gorgeous synthesis of classical and jazz with Lewis on piano and Larry Gray on cello, both exhibiting their extraordinary gifts. Gray's cello also graces "Estellita."

The Ramsey Lewis Trio first came to prominence in the '60s doing piano based instrumental jazz versions of pop hits. (Remember their version of "Hang on Sloopy"?) In that vein, Time Flies offers up Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis," so well recorded that the rhythm instruments literally seem to jump out of your speakers. Even the classic hits "Wade in the Water" and "The In Crowd" that Lewis has performed throughout his career take on new life, invested with new rhythms suggested at Ramsey's request by his son Frayne T. Lewis, while yet retaining the familiar melodies. The arrangements have really been re-imagined and allow these very familiar songs to sound less like remakes and more like completely new tunes.

There are three new songs on Time Flies: "Second Thoughts," "Hide and Seek" and "Last Dance," all sounding good enough to hold their own next to the career classics. Lewis's piano and Gray's cello both excel on "Second Thoughts," on which they both stretch out, share leads, and lay down a superb listening experience. "Open My Heart" is a loving rendition of the Yolanda Adams track, with perfect vocal accompaniment by the Chicago Gospel Voices, an awesomely talented ensemble who are also featured on the closing track, "Hosanna."

The trio consists of Lewis on piano, Gray on bass and Leon Joyce Jr. on drums. Kevin Randolph adds some nice Hammond organ on several tracks. Lewis also produced the album with co-production on a few tunes by Frayne and one with Randolph. This album wears very well and on repeat listening just gets better and better. Lewis has been responsible for an incredible amount of great music over the years, but Time Flies is overall the most satisfying album he's ever done; it's highly recommended.

Without addressing the larger issue of music piracy, I must point out that this disc contains copy control technology that eliminates the capability to digitally copy the music, even for personal use. If you play this disc on a computer, it first installs its own proprietary player that completely prevents copying, ripping or burning. This is a disturbing trend in the music business that severely impacts the purchaser's right to legally copy and use the music for personal listening purposes.

by William Kates
5 November 2005

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