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Routes / Three Piece Suite
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The Routes album sees his collaboration with Earth Wind & Fire continue after the Success of the Sun Goddess album (which is also available on Cherry Red Records) with five tracks composed by members of Earth Wind & Fire, with the remaining tracks written by Allen Toussaint, who also produced the album with Larry Dunn of Earth Wind & Fire. Whisper Zone and Colors In Space being the stand out tracks from the album. 1981's Three Piece Suite sees a softer Jazzier side of Ramsey, and his Piano playing style is probably more evident on this album than on Routes, There is even a cover version of Michael Jacksons Shes Out Of My Life.
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His shining (Ramsey-of-old) moment is the tender, reflective ballad "Looking Glass" from "Routes" - and wouldn't you know it, this is the only song where he was involved in the writing...and it's a Steinway Concert Grand solo performance. One can only wonder what it is doing here; or else, why couldn't he have committed himself to a whole album of such worthwhile creative artistry? (Obviously, we know the answer was a cash-grab attempt by his Columbia-label overlords.)
"Routes" also has the slight advantage of New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint producing and composing four tracks: "Crystals 'N' Sequence" is a short-but-sweet pop-soul effort, while unfortunately the melodically gorgeous "You Are the Reason," which could have been prime Ramsey, is instead sabotaged by an annoyingly repetitive, way-too-prominent electric bass line. (The other two Toussaint productions are of the generally forgettable funk sort that do nothing to enhance his legacy.)
From the second LP's title "Three Piece Suite" and the cover photo of Ramsey in a black tux, you would expect a classic-jazz result, but what you actually get are songs so forgettable that you'll be forgetting them while still listening to them. It's Ramsey just going through the motions, half-heartedly, and succumbing to the whole overproduced mess.
These two 1980/1981 LPs were pathetic attempts to milk the last ounces of commercial profit out of the pop-funk and disco crazes which had exceeded their 1978-79 expiration dates. "Routes" and "Three Piece Suite" limped into the '80s with precious little actual jazz content. What a waste of talent! Ramsey Lewis did do some fine work during his Columbia years, but at least a few of his LPs were treated as not much more than mere commercial product, and the artistic bar was appreciably lowered. Clearly, that is what happened here, and only one outstanding track got through: the solo "Looking Glass"; plus the very good Allen-Toussaint-penned pop-soul (not jazz) instrumental "Crystals 'N' Sequence," both from "Routes."