Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeNearly 50 years after his debut album Ramsey Lewis and The Gentlemen of Swing was released, The Ramsey Lewis Trio's performance at the Allyn Pavilion for the Performing Arts in Williams Bay was filled with generations of experience and revealed a fine touch and showmanship that has stood the test of time.
Opening the evening's 90-minute set with a tune that revealed even the softest of whispers in the crowd, the vast range of dynamics was set early on as the band went up and down in volume on a moment's notice. "I can already tell this is going to be a good night," said Lewis, in one of a few times he picked up a microphone to talk to the crowd in between songs. Following with a moody version of "Close Your Eyes and Remember," a tune written by his friend and fellow Chicagoan Minnie Riperton, Lewis' premonition had already begun to unfold as the band stirred up supple sounds and precise rhythms to the delight of the relatively small crowd. Showing he still has a flair for the dramatic, Lewis let his hand drift beyond the highest keys on his piano in the outro of the song, as if wishing there were more notes to play. Further adding to the intimate feeling produced by the relatively small confines of the pavilion, the band even seemed to respond, mid-song, to the rain that fell during the show. Shifting to a lower volume almost on command, the rain pattering the pavilion top created its own rhythm amidst the shuffling of drumbeats, sliding of bass lines and tickling of keys.
The trio then pushed the energy of the evening to its highest height with a version of Chick Corea's "Armando's Rhumba" that featured a solo section by drummer Leon Joyce with Lewis and bassist Larry Gray momentarily leaving the stage. After Joyce had pounded through off-meter rudiments and played the drums with his bare hands, the band came back in right on cue to a raucous response from the crowd. With the crowd abuzz, Lewis kept the energy up with some blues that made his piano sing only to go into a airy section with cymbals washing up mysterious sounds and Gray creating an Oriental feel with bow on bass.
An encore version of Lewis' classic take on "The In Crowd," sealed the deal, and after a second encore, Lewis had again earned the title of "the great performer."
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