Webster Lewis

On the Town

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The first album released on this artist's Epic contract continued the stylistic narrative begun on a live album earlier in the decade, only on a much larger scale. Webster Lewis -- a keyboardist, clarinetist, composer, conductor and arranger from Baltimore -- had gotten in the ears of some soul and jazz fans by using an Isley Brothers tune, "It's Your Thing," to set off his own improvisations. Miles Davis was even said to have been a fan of Lewis, whose name sometimes comes up in connection with the mysterious personnel assembled On the Corner.

On the Town is incredibly typical of projects from this era, attempting to combine jazz and soul sensibilities, originally seeming to please nobody at all but over time apparently mellowing into a broth quite pleasing to listeners fond of newly simmered genres such as rare groove or golden soul. No expense was spared, no stone unturned, when it came to gathering studio session talent for this event. At least eight of the instrumentalists taking part either were, or became, solo artists in their own right. A total of approximately 50 players were contracted by the time

Lewis had completed the seven featured tracks. This artist's reputation and accomplishments are not worth arguing about, a point worth making since the predicitable outcome of these '70s blockbuster productions inevitably seems to be to almost yet not quite totally hide the star's talents. A certain number of elements considered necessary for popularity are always a big part of the action, among them cheesy background vocals, string sections with the creative implications of an armed guard, and of course all the latest keyboard technology. Unlike the yo-yo or the super-ball, the latter items have only gotten more popular by becoming out-dated. Lewis teamed up with fellow keyboard noodler David Horowitz for "Saturday Night Steppin' Out." The track wears its funk credentials like Wyatt Earp's badge, Cornell Dupree wrapping his curly cable around Carl Lynch's neck while maestro Lewis looks down the throat of a tiger that seems to be nibbling on a Casio -- obviously not true since that keyboard hadn't been invented yet.

Horowitz, showing the brazen audacity to overdub an accordion on one track, composed the grimacing "Song of Joy" all on his own, perhaps influenced by the session contractar's commission check. Lewis' pretty "Goodnight, Baby Girl" is a wise choice for the closer, its honest warmth and sentimentality busting through the overgrown trappings like a pinata.

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