Goin' Latin

by: Ramsey Lewis

In 1966, Ramsey Lewis changed up his winning live piano trio format at Cadet to include a big band. Produced by Esmond Edwards and conducted and arranged by Richard Evans, Wade in the Water was a surprise hit; it's title track reached number 19 on the pop chart (ahhhhh, the days of great AM radio when such a thing was possible). So Lewis had no need to rock the boat all that much on this follow-up, and used the same team for Goin' Latin. The boogaloo craze was taking over the East Coast at the time, and while Lewis was still rooted in Chicago, he got around on tour. Edwards and Evans brought Lewis' great trio (with Cleveland Eaton on bass and Maurice White on drums) again, and augmented the proceedings with horns, percussion, electric guitar, and even strings. The result is an album that is every bit as strong as its predecessor. Evans' arrangements and bottom-heavy soulful sound mix well with Lewis' indulgence in bossa nova, discotheque boogaloo, and Latin soul-lite on this set. The set's opener, "Hey Mrs. Jones," is a I-IV-V blues progression layered with wild bongos and congas in tight boogaloo fashion; there is also a small string section playing the changes and the horns playing the vamp. It's heavy, fat, and smokin', and sets the tone well. Other notables on this set are Lewis' killer version of "Function at the Junction," with big brassy horns playing the intro filled by congas before the trio enters with its trademark funky soul-jazz where gospel, blues, and jazz all meet on the corner and clap their hands, and the not so subtle remake of another gospel tune (which didn't score on the charts), "Down by the Riverside." The latter number may not have a ton of imagination, but Evans gets miles out of it in his charts. It's fast, furious, and joyous in its groove -- and in its way superior to "Wade in the Water." As is typical of Lewis from the period, there are a couple of ballads as well, but they only partially work here. While the Latinized version of "Lara's Theme (Somewhere My Love)" works well, the syrupy bossa-esque "I'll Wait for You" falls flat. The album ends on two finely imaginative tracks. First is the taut Puerto Rican-Cubano jam "Spanish Grease," which takes Nuyorican boogaloo and rubs it up against clave, montuno, and blues with an absolutely killer horn chart. The last is a very unique reading of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which begins as a discotheque boogaloo, layers strings into the melody, and undercuts the rhythmic lines with an army of congas playing midtempo and Lewis prettying up the middle with his own trio. The horns accent the strings in the codas and then Lewis brings it home in the solo, grinding it into rich, greasy soul-jazz. Goin' Latin may have been a fad record, but in the 21st century it holds up well. ~ Thom Jurek

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