Philippe Saisse: The Body and Soul Sessions

In 1960, a young Ramsey Lewis posed for the cover of his Ramsey Lewis Trio album Stretchin’ Out with drummer Red Holt and bassist Eldee Young framing the background. 46 years later, pianist Philippe Saisse replicates Ramsey’s cool cover for his brand-new CD featuring drummer Scooter Warner and bassist David Finck. But that’s not where the similarities end. Saisse and producer Goh Hotoda’s idea was to create a record of retro-cool acoustic songs with clap tracks and the feel of some of Lewis’ best songs like the classic “The In Crowd.”

Originally released in Japan but now available on smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz’s Rendezvous label, The Body and Soul Sessions maintains the party atmosphere over its 12 cover tunes, some well known, some lesser known. Saisse’s Fender Rhodes highlights Steely Dan’s “Do It Again,” and the song’s rapid rise on the smooth jazz charts is one of this year’s pleasant surprises.

The clap tracks first surface on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” but happily make appearances later on. Other lovingly rearranged staples include “Lady Madonna,” “Body and Soul,” “We’re All Alone,” “Fire and Rain” and “Lovely Day,” but props go out to Saisse, who now lives in New York, for resurrecting the playful genius of the late Serge Gainsbourg with a cover of “Harley Davidson,” which gives Saisse ample room to work the keys. But the standout track here is Gainsbourg’s “Comment Te Dire Adieu,” a song that wears its happy face on its sleeve, as it were, and transports the listener back to the bachelor-pad ’60s.

Saisse was playing chilled-out piano grooves before they became all the rage, but it’s apparent that he’s settled into his niche with this trio.