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Piano Jazz: Robinsongs Revives Ramsey Lewis, Richard Tee LPs on CD

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Richard Tee - Strokin' and NaturalIf you’re in the mood for funky jazz played by two piano giants, Cherry Red’s Robinsongs label has a couple of recent releases just for you.

The late Richard Tee (1943-1993) may be best known for his session work; the pianist/arranger’s credits include pivotal recordings by Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin, George Harrison, Daryl Hall and John Oates, The Bee Gees, Dionne Warwick and many others.  For much of the seventies, if you needed electric piano, keyboards or organ on a session, Richard Tee was your go-to man.  In addition to the aforementioned pop and R&B work, Tee played with jazz artists such as Hank Crawford, George Benson, Hubert Laws, Grover Washington Jr. and Stanley Turrentine.  In 1976, Tee formed the jazz/funk group Stuff, also featuring guitarists Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale and drummer Steve Gadd.  Stuff recorded three studio LPs with Tee between 1976 and 1979.  But the solo bug called to Tee, too.  So when he decided to take the plunge into solo recording, he turned to Bob James’ Tappan Zee Records label (then distributed by Columbia).  Like Tee, James was a veteran of Creed Taylor’s CTI label.  James produced Tee’s Tappan Zee debut Strokin’, which has just been combined by Robinsongs on one CD with its follow-up, Natural Ingredients, also produced by James.

The line-up on Strokin’ reads like a studio “Who’s Who.” Gale and Gadd from Stuff joined Chuck Rainey on bass, Ralph MacDonald on percussion, Tom Scott on saxophone and lyricon (an electronic wind instrument), Hugh McCracken on harmonica, and The Brecker Brothers, naturally leading up the horn section.  Tee arranged and conducted seven tracks including covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” and Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Take the ‘A’ Train.”  Tee and Bill Withers co-wrote “Every Day,” Tee went it alone for “Virginia Sunday,” and Rainey brought along “First Love.” MacDonald joined with frequent partner William Salter for “I Wanted It, Too.”  The funky fusion continued on Natural Ingredients.  Matthew Bragg subbed for Chuck Rainey, but Steve Gadd, Hugh McCracken, Ralph MacDonald and Tom Scott all returned, as did Randy Brecker.  Lani Groves and Valarie Simpson contributed to the background vocals.  Tee and Withers co-wrote “The Nut’s Off of the Screw,” and MacDonald and Salter supplied “What a Woman Really Means.”  Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” and Mendelssohn’s (!) “Spinning Song” are among the more surprising song selections.

While neither of these albums charted, they should pack plenty of appeal for fans of the R&B-tinged jazz of The Brecker Brothers, Bob James or Tom Scott.  Tee continued to sporadically record solo (in between engagements with superstars like Paul Simon) until his untimely death from prostate cancer.  Robinsongs’ two-for-one reissue adds liner notes by Lois Wilson, and both albums have been remastered by Alan Wilson.

After the jump, we’re in with Ramsey Lewis’ in-crowd! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 18, 2013 at 10:59