WEBSTER LEWIS: Four Reissues (Label: Expansion)

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WEBSTER LEWIS: Four Reissues

The late Baltimore-born/LA-based keyboard sorcerer, Webster Lewis (1943-2002), was immensely popular with British jazz-funk aficionados in the late-’70s as a result of a clutch of slick fusion albums he released for Epic Records. His first LP, the little-known ‘Live At Club 7’ for the Counterpoint label, came out in 1971 and largely fell on deaf ears. Five years later, though, Lewis – who, apparently, was also a decent clarinet player – hit the big time by inking a major label deal with Epic. Between 1976 and 1981, he produced four albums for the company, all of which have now been reissued by Expansion (three come to CD for the first time and also contain rare, previously unheard bonus cuts). The keyboard maestro’s first outing for Epic, 1976’s ‘On The Town’ was credited to Webster Lewis and The Post-Pop Space-Rock Be-Bop Gospel Tabernacle Orchestra & Chorus (thankfully, Lewis dropped the pretentious name on subsequent albums). Released when the disco inferno was burning at its brightest ‘On The Town’ is understandably packed with slurping hi-hats, funky bass lines and baroque-like string orchestra parts. A mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks, it’s camper than Butlin’s but enjoyable nevertheless, with ‘Love Is The Way’ and ‘Do It With Style’ standing out. There’s also a previously unissued track in the shape of an instrumental cover of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Let’s Do It Again.’ 1978’s ‘Touch My Love’ dropped a lot of the disco affectations and proved to be a better album – the killer cut is the Rare Groove favourite, ‘Barbara Ann,’ which is characterised by a winning blend of percolating Latin dance rhythms, percussive Rhodes piano and soft, breathy female vocals. Amazingly, four studio outtakes from the same sessions have been discovered in the vaults and appear here. The best is the propulsive, fusion-style instrumental, ‘Japanese Umbrella.’ In 1979, Lewis produced a third album for Epic, ‘8 For The 80s,’ a set co-produced with Herbie Hancock (Lewis was musical director of Hancock’s group at the time). Featuring an impressive cast of A-list session personnel (James Gadson, Paul Jackson Jr, Nate Watts et al) plus a cameo from singer D.J. Rogers (on ‘Heavenly’) it’s undoubtedly one of Lewis’s best records. Soul fans will recall it for the song ‘Give Me Some Emotion’ – which Merry Clayton turned into a Stateside hit – and the excellent ‘The Love You Give To Me.’ Lewis’s Epic swansong was 1981’s ‘Let Me Be The One,’ regarded by liner note writer, Ralph Tee, as the keyboard player’s most cohesive set. It contains the brilliant Latin-tinged instrumental, ‘El Bobo,’ the soulful groover, ‘Bout The Love’ and a plaintive ballad, ‘Open Up Your Eyes.’ This new reissue includes two terrific bonus cuts – ‘Reach Out,’ and ‘Boston.’ After leaving Epic in 1981, Webster Lewis recorded ‘Welcome Aboard,’ an album in tandem with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra and also produced albums by Gwen McCrae and Michael Wycoff. Sadly for soul fans, after that Lewis largely abandoned recording and focused his energies on TV and movie work. Now thanks to Expansion, Webster Lewis’s unsung genius is celebrated by this batch of superlative reissues. Get them now at http://www.expansionrecords.com
(CW) 4/5