Ramsey Lewis has long since been one of my favorite piano players next possibly to Herbie Hancock. He has the great advantage of knowing his way around a melody. And even if he's not improvising heavily those soulful Chicago gospel/blues chords he uses make it more than worth the while. And this CD contains both the second and third Ramsey Lewis Trio. From a period that hasn't been all that exposed in the digital era. The first album here 'In Chicago' has historical significance as the final albums recorded at Chicago's famous Blue Note club. Fresh from the success they'd earned from their debut album this live set doesn't exactly sound like a live recording outside the applause. Numbers such as "Old Devil Moon","Delilah" and "C.C Rider"-all of which are heavy soul/jazz stompers of which the trio were specializing in at this point sound more like brand new studio tracks because their so well recorded.
One of the most unique songs on this album is "Folk Ballad",basically a melodic bass exercise for Eldee Young in which the elaborate melody is touched in just about every way possible by Young's basslines. As for the other album of this set,the studio set 'Stretching Out' from the same year it's every bit the ideal studio follow up to Down to Earth. It maintains all the qualities of that album while bringing in key new elements for the new decade. While "Little Liza Jane" is pretty much a great but typical of the trios sound at this point a version of "Scarlet Ribbons" showcases the beginning of Ramsey's highly melodic pop-jazz styled music that would come in a few years while maintaining this classic piano style completely. On "Solo Para Ti" Ramsey recognizes the then highly popular bossa nova sound into his soul jazz/hard bop sound and it emerges as a major highlight. On "These Foolish Things" and "A Portrait of Jennie" Eldee again takes the cake on a series of amazing bass solos,some even arco again.
Along with their 1958 debut set this album represents the Ramsey Lewis trio in it's most basic form. They are still experimenting,learning from what was around them. But especially when it comes to the sound of Ramsey's piano it ends up really giving this music the distinctive flavor. Luckily Eldee Young and Redd Holt are musicians that continually prove themselves easily the equal of Ramsey in terms of ability and personality. They easily adapt to any type of new rhythm or melodic idea Ramsey wishes to integrate into his sound. In the coming years after this this would be put to the test,even as different personal came in and out of Ramsey's musical sphere and the trio developed something of a revolving door policy. But in terms of the original lineup and it's own distinctive sound these two albums are probably the finest examples of what they could and always did do in their prime. In addition these albums,because of their high quality are highly recommended to lovers of soul/jazz,hard bop and anyone interested in the beginnings of the jazz-funk sound.