Sunday, 8 January 2017

"Them Changes" by RAMSEY LEWIS [feat Phil Upchurch] (2016 Universal Spain/Cadet/Elemental Music CD Remaster in Repro Artwork) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Whatever Sets You Free..."

Following on from his "Ramsey Lewis, The Piano Player" LP in March 1970 (Cadet Records LPS 836) - Illinois Keyboard whiz RAMSEY LEWIS recorded this obscure and forgotten 'live' LP at The Depot in Minneapolis and named it after the Buddy Miles title track "Them Changes" - releasing it on Cadet Records LP 844 in October of that busy year.

This 2016 CD Remaster is part of a European Reissue Series from Universal Spain distributed in the UK by Elemental Music – a reissue label specialising in Soul, Funk, Disco and Fusion LP titles long out of print. With access to the vast back-catalogue of Universal - you get mainly US rarities and obscure albums originally on Polydor, Chess, Cadet, People, Mercury, Capitol Records and of course the huge Motown repertoire including Rare Earth, Soul, Tamla and Gordy (see list below). They’ve been releasing titles steadily since November 2015 and into 2016...

Each CD Reissue is housed in a gatefold LP replica card sleeve with an Inner (a limited edition). It doesn't say anywhere on their glossy packaging (inners or CDs) who or even where these were transferred or remastered despite the claims of such on the stickers on the outer shrink-wrap. Having said that the repro sleeves are accurate - tactile to touch - all coming with a gatefold artwork when most of their original album covers were single sleeves - and best of all have superb Audio care of Universal UMC. If was to hazard a Remaster Engineer guess - it sounds like the work of Gary Moore or Kevin Reeves - both of whom have handled huge numbers of these genre albums for Universal in their extensive 200+ 'Originals' Series. Here are the details...

UK/Europe released 25 August 2016 - "Them Changes" by RAMSEY LEWIS on Universal Spain/Cadet/Elemental 88516 (Barcode 8435395501139) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 1970 7-track LP originally on Cadet Records in the USA and plays out as follows (44:45 minutes):

1. Them Changes
2. Drown In My Own Tears
3. Oh Happy Day
4. Do Whatever Sets You Free [Side 2]
5. Something
6. See The End From The Beginning, Look Afar
7. The Unsilent Minority
Tracks 1 to 7 are the LP "Them Changes" - released October 1970 in the USA on Cadet Records LPS 844 (no UK issue). Arranged and Produced by RAMSEY LEWIS and Recorded by REICE HAMEL - it's a 'live' recording done at The Depot in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the 8th and 9th of May 1970. "Do Whatever Sets You Free" and "The Unsilent Majority" by Ramsey Lewis - "See The End From The Beginning, Look Afar" by Ramsey Lewis and Cleveland Eaton. All others are covers - "Them Changes" by Buddy Miles, "Drown In My Own Tears" by Henry Glover and famously associated with Ray Charles, "Oh Happy Day" by The Edwin Hawkins Singers and "Something" by George Harrison with The Beatles.

RAMSEY LEWIS - Steinway Grand Piano, Fender Rhodes Electric Piano
PHIL UPCHURCH - Fender Electric Guitar
CLEVELAND EATON - Fender Electric Bass

The inner gatefold is simply a close up of the front sleeve and the Inner Sleeve contains Track Lists and Credits on both sides. The label reflects the pale Blue and White 'Cadet Records' label of old. The LP feels like Donny Hathaway 'Live' circa the same time frame - 1970 intimate and in your face for all the right reasons. And the addition of Phil Upchurch with this Rhythm Section Funks things up into Soul Jazz and Rare Grooves.

The LP opens with applause and a very groovy version of "Them Changes" by Buddy Miles - whose album of the same name had hit the US shelves in July 1970 on Mercury Records and caused a stir both musically and politically. The Lewis Ensemble drops the lyrics and the Brass Funk of Buddy's original - keeping only that tremendous groove (all songs on here are instrumentals). This is a Soul-Jazz-Funk LP – way more in keeping with the sounds of the day that the organ cool Lewis had become known for in the Sixties. You get a slinky Fender Rhodes Piano Funk sound throughout with Upchurch flicking those frets until he comes in on a very tasty solo.

When they do "Them Changes" - as I say it feels like Donny Hathaway 'Live'. Personally I cannot get enough of that sound - the Rhodes magic Hathaway so effortlessly got over on Atlantic Records with his house-band of like-minded musicians is evident all over this album. Lewis switches to Grand Piano for their cover of the Ray Charles 1950's Atlantic hit "Drown In My Own Tears" - but far better is the Fender-Rhodes Funk of "Oh Happy Day" (originally by The Edwin Hawkins Singers) which really lifts the audience out of their seats with whoops of appreciation. At seven and half minutes - Upchurch gets to spread out too - and you forget how lovely the melody to "Oh Happy Day" is.

Side 2 opens with eight-minutes of "Do Whatever Sets You Free" and in keeping with the title - both Drummer Morris Jennings and Cleveland Eaton on Bass get to cut loose as they solo alongside Ramsey tinkering away sexily on those keys. It's a fabulously funky piece where both the band and the whooping audience are clearly digging the groove. There's an unnecessary and poorly recorded distance to the piano sound as "Something" opens - but Ramsey's grand piano playing soon comes into focus. And for such an overdone melody - this feels like one Beatles cover that compliments the beautiful original rather than imitates (Phil plays some tasty licks too). Back to the groove with "See The End From The Beginning, Look Afar" where the band is cooking by now - bringing it all home with a superb Phil Upchurch led "The Unsilent Majority" - probably the sexiest groove on the record.

It's not all genius by any means and there are occasional production problems on some of the recordings - but that groove sends me - and the added 'live' element only makes me want more. A smart reissue and I hope they tackle other Cadet Records albums especially involving arranger-genius Charles Stepney...

Titles in the 2015 and 2016 'Universal/Elemental Music' CD Reissue Series are:

1. Hang On In There Baby (1974 LP on MGM Records) - JOHNNY BRISTOL (Universal/Elemental 88518 - 8435395501153)
2. The Original Disco Man (1979 LP on Polydor) - JAMES BROWN (Universal/Elemental 88523 – Barcode 8435395501450)
3. Music To Make Love By (1975 LP on Chess) - SOLOMON BURKE (Universal/Elemental 88528 – Barcode 8435395501627)
4. Hot On The Tracks (1976 LP on Motown) – THE COMMODORES (Universal/Elemental 88511 – Barcode 8435395500965)
5. Breakin' Bread (1974 LP on People) – FRED (WESLEY) & THE NEW JB’S (Universal/Elemental 88522 – Barcode 8435395501252)
6. Doing It To Death (1973 LP on People) - THE JB'S [with James Brown] (Universal/Elemental 88517 – Barcode 8435395501146)
7. People...Hold On (1972 LP on Tamla) – EDDIE KENDRICKS (Universal/Elemental 88501 – Barcode 8435395500569)
8. Mother Nature's Son (1968 LP on Cadet) – RAMSEY LEWIS (Universal/Elemental 88504 – Barcode 8435395500590)
9. Them Changes (1970 LP on Cadet) - RAMSEY LEWIS (Universal/Elemental 88516 – Barcode 8435395501139)
10. Fire (1974 LP on Mercury) - THE OHIO PLAYERS (Universal/Elemental 88506 – Barcode 8435395500973)
11. Skin Tight (1974 LP on Mercury) - THE OHIO PLAYERS (with 1 Bonus Track) (Universal/Elemental 88510 – Barcode 8435395500958)
12. Get Ready (1969 LP on Rare Earth) – RARE EARTH (Universal/Elemental 88505 – Barcode 8435395500866)
13. Soulin' (1966 LP on Capitol) - LOU RAWLS (Universal/Elemental 88515 - 8435395501122)
14. Smokey (1973 LP on Tamla) – SMOKEY ROBINSON (Universal/Elemental 88503 – Barcode 8435395500583)
15. My Whole World Ended (1969 LP on Motown) - DAVID RUFFIN (Universal/Elemental 88527 – Barcode 8435395501542)
16. The Groove Governor (1970 LP on Soul) – JIMMY RUFFIN (Universal/Elemental 88513 – Barcode 8435395501108)
17. Still Waters Run Deep (1970 LP on Tamla) – THE TEMPTATIONS (Universal 88502 – Barcode 8435395500576)
18. Face to Face With... (1971 LP on Gordy) – THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH (Universal/Elemental 88509 – Barcode 8435395500941)
19. Together Brothers O.S.T. (1974 2LPs on 20th Century, Single CD) – BARRY WHITE and THE LOVE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA (Universal/Elemental 88507 – Barcode 8435395500880)

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