Ramsey Lewis’s main musical personality is as an interpreter. Of both classic and modern standards. He wasn’t generally a Quincy Jones style arranger and producer, who had grand ideas for long form musical concepts. Lewis’s 1978 album Legacy changed that dynamic for the soul jazz pianist. Anyone who is going into this album fresh without any familiarity with it’s contents should be made aware of some important facts. For starters, this is not your average Ramsey Lewis album. The pianist had divided the majority of the 70’s up until this point recording in two distinct kinds of fusion styles.
One of these styles was a very poppy R&B-inflected style that owed at least as much to orchestration as to melody (example: Tequila Mockingbird and the other a very dynamic funk-jazz sound strongly influenced by Earth Wind & Fire and the Ohio Players (example: Don’t It Feel Good). On Legacy, those distinctions begin the blur. And a lot of it was very much intentional. The title track,a long 22 + minute track here (and sidelong suite on the original vinyl LP) is more or less a concerto featuring three distinct sections,listed on the album featuring Lewis’s piano playing in those unique settings.
It’s not a classical piece though. The piano solo’s are based more in different jazz and gospel mixtures than anything in the European classic tradition. In between they are bound together with these interludes that are basically very cinematic theatrical scores. The whole thing comes off as a mixture of that all encompassing musical suite Quincy Jones tinkered with around this same time and a 70’s style movie soundtrack. The second part of the album though is where those “blurring lines” surrounding Ramsey’s separate musical sides of the decade are most apparent.
He was born under the Gemini star after all so it’s not surprising that compositions such as “All The Way Live”,”Don’t Look Back” and “Well,Well,Well” blend both flowery orchestral rhetoric with a very direct polyrhythmic, staccato funk. Strangely enough because you have the two musical dynamics occurring at the same time,there appears to be too much instrumentation on some of the songs. Interestingly enough at times a couple of them sometimes break off into a disco beat. It’s not that they are particularly overproduced but there’s often a huge amount of musical content.
Out of all the tunes, “Moogin On” is the most impressive as it focuses squarely into an impressive, upbeat Latin-funk piece that’s incredibly catchy and a wonderful standout song for this album. The more gentle “I Love To Please You” is the single thoroughly mellow tune here,if on that hand your into that kind of thing. Some people just aren’t. This is an album that’s very commendable for the typically masterful musicianship from Ramsey and his band,as well as their collective intent on stringing together over a century of musical development into a contemporary context.
It’s not something even easy to conceptualize. The fact that Ramsey was able to pull this off so well here says a lot. Legacy is also vital in terms of its visual packaging. The front cover depicts “clones” of Ramsey Lewis in different outfits. On the back is a checklist illustrating which end of music each outfit was associated with-from rock, Latin to New Orleans. This gives an image for Ramsey’s hope of showcasing the scope of jazz from its origins up to the funk/disco era that Legacy was recorded in. And what makes the album an important and unsung diamond in Ramsey’s vast recorded catalog.