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Pianist's Craftsmen's Guild shows light on 'Sun Goddess,' heavy on spiritual variety

| Friday, March 14, 2014, 9:36 p.m.

Ramsey Lewis gave his listeners at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild more — and less — than he promised.

At two Friday shows, billed as “The Sun Goddess Tour,” the pianist played only three songs from the “Sun Goddess” album, which was a Billboard chart-topper in 1974.

In doing so, he offered more of a variety of songs, from a great collection of spirituals gathered in his younger days playing in church to a solo reading of John Coltrane's “Dear Lord.”

Less, indeed, can equal more.

Lewis and the band never got around to playing “Sun Goddess” until the second encore — after a collection of the pianist's famous hits, such as “Hang On Sloopy” and “The In Crowd.”

While the quintet, assembled specifically for this project, opened the first show with “Hot Dawgitt” from the album, the show never took on the sense of a tribute to the recording. A good decision. That album was built not only around Lewis' playing, but also the horns of Earth Wind & Fire.

This band uses two decks of Tim Gant's electronic keyboards to suggest some of the horn and string arrangements of the album, but it has only a mild similarity.

In fact, the songs from the “Sun Goddess” album had a rather mechanical nature that detracted from them.

One piece from the album that fully succeeded, though, was Stevie Wonder's “Living in the City,” which featured a great, soulful solo from guitarist Henry Johnson.

The other end of the selections worked much better. Lewis blended Coltrane's “Dear Lord” with his own “Blessings” to create an outing that was nearly as spiritual as the church medley he did later. Lightening matters, he did a easy-going version of the Brazilian-flavored “Bahia.”

Lewis's solos frequently had cadenza-like section where he explored many different melodies and moods.

Bassist Joshua Ramos also stood out in one section of the spiritual medley when he used a bow to explore some of the deepest notes his upright can offer.

By staying away from a replay of “Sun Goddess,” the band put together a show that was a better statement of itself.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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