Them Changes: the first live album from First Avenue

The Ramsey Lewis Trio released his first album, Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing, nearly sixty years ago. The 2011 CD Taking Another Look was Lewis’ eightieth album! We’d have a hard time choosing a favorite. His early album are the epitome of class — the only problem with An Hour with the Ramsey Lewis Trio is that it’s not actually an hour long! Ramsey’s seventies soul albums are consistently awesome. You can’t go wrong with “What’s the Name of that Funk? Spiderman.” Lewis can play jazz in just about any setting — his appearance on the 90s compilation Stolen Moments: Red Hot+Cool was one of the best tracks on that collaboration between jazz and hip hop artists.

Just how awesome is Ramsey Lewis? So awesome that earlier this year he got a personal birthday greeting from the President!

If forced to thin our collection to just one Ramsey Lewis album, we’d choose Them Changes. The reason: it was recorded at the Depot here in Minneapolis in 1970. This is the club which eventually became First Avenue ten years later.them changes

Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen played the first show at the Depot on April 3rd, and we believe Ramsey Lewis made the first live recording in the club. Them Changes was recorded on May 8th and 9th.

The title track is a cover of Buddy Miles’ signature tune, which was first written when he was playing drums in Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. The cover of Lewis’ album applies the song to changing times in a way which remains relevant to today’s events as well. Released as a single (credited to Ramsey Lewis & Co.) his cover of “Them Changes” didn’t do as well as earlier singles but we love it just as much as his versions of “Wade in the Water” or “The In Crowd.”

Lewis had played the fender rhodes electric piano on a couple previous albums, but never to the effect he does on Them Changes. Also, this live album is the second time Phil Upchurch joined Lewis’ trio. He was in the middle of a run of soul jazz albums which are some of our favorites, and a perfect compliment to Lewis’ style.

The album was captured by the legendary remote recording engineer Reice Hamel. Hamel is particularly famous for the innovations introduced with The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, a live album which influenced other jazz recordings for years to come. You can certainly hear this in the way he recorded the crowd’s interaction on Them Changes although Lewis has a lot less to say than the talkative Adderley. We recently posted two tracks from an Ahmad Jamal album Hamel recorded at the same club (here). A couple of Hamel’s additional claims to fame are recording Barbra Streisand’s widely bootlegged debut at the Hungry I in 1963, and the recordings from Joan Baez 1962 tour which made up the best selling In Concert albums. Whether he made other recordings at the Depot is uncertain, but it’s something we’re on the lookout for!

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