Legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis puts on a clinic of exploratory, dynamic improvisation with Appassionata (Narada 70776-13281-2-7; 68:42), teaming up with bassist Larry Gray and drummer Ernie Adams for intimate trio-set takes on classical melodies, operatic themes and spirituals. The trio begins with a familiar theme and lets it flower in all kinds of unexpected ways-on "Nessun Dorma," Lewis spreads the keyboard out like a sail, billowing out with Gray's deep bass cries, before segueing into a stiff-fingered jazz walk, then a lithe lyrical passage; each stage evolving seamlessly through complex pictures and emotions. The pristine, meditative gospel melody "What Wondrous Love Is This?" drifts and interweaves piano with bowed bass, then twists into a stomping on-your-feet jam. "Moment Spiritual" pulls out all the stops on a thoughtful suite sweeping from spindly blue gospel to swinging rhythmic club jazz, for another gorgeous highlight. Throughout the seemingly effortless shifts-and whether waltzing or
wailing, the trio hangs tightly together as a unit made just to transport we the listeners. Nobody does it better than Lewis.