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Serene Funk

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Ramsey Lewis: Kufanya Mapenzi and If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right
Taken from the album Funky Serenity on Columbia (1972)

Ramsey Lewis: Aufu Oodu
Taken from the album Salongo on CBS (1976)

One of the great thrills of a record hunt is the occasional stowaway find. Out at the flea market, digging at a garage sale, you spot a desirable record, pay the crumpled dollar, get home, dip your fingers into the dusty sleeve and remove–what’s this?!? This isn’t Roberta Flack! Why, it’s… SALONGO!

So it was that I discovered Ramsey Lewis at his mid-seventies easy listening/pop-jazz-funk fusion best. It would be another several years before I would actually acquire the record in it’s proper jacket, and only then that I would realize just how indispensible this album really is. Take a closer look, people: that’s Ramsey, in tribal paint, unabashedly beaming… in braces.

Truth be told, Salongo is actually kind of a wack album, full of banal groove, mood music and flaccid synthesizers. That said, the cover is amazing and Aufu Oodu is one of those delectable Afro-centric mid-seventies cuts that you just can’t help but love. If you hear a sonic resemblance to some of Earth, Wind & Fire’s contemporaneous work, it’s because EWF’s frontman/producer, Maurice White is behind the mixing boards.

Far more substantive as a whole album, “Funky Serenity” epitomizes the early seventies fusion sound. (The heavy drum presence, the Rhodes work, and the Zulu track titles are a good tip-off.) This album, which preceeded the much more successful “Sun Goddess” by a year, is easily my favorite of Ramsey’s work from this era.

The highly rhythmic uptempo cut, “Kufanya Mapenzi” was a happy suprise after listening to the “If Loving You…” cover about thirty times in a row. Damn! That song kills me every time. Stay tuned for the Millie Jackson and/or Bobby Bland version in the near future. PEACE!