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Ramsey Lewis/Nancy Wilson: Meant To Be

Not all jazz marriages are made in heaven.

Mismatched sensibilities, discordant styles or simply the unsportsmanlike one-upmanship that comes of clashing egos can easily scupper the union of two major talents. But when such pairs jibe, the outcome can be extraordinary. Consider, for example, how often the teaming of a superb singer and a great instrumentalist has delivered sublime results: O’Day and Tjader; Christy and Cooper; Connor and Ferguson; McRae and Brubeck. The list goes on an on.

Rare, however, is the songbird who can make multiple partnerships work. Ella could do it. So, too, can Nancy Wilson. In a career that now spans five decades and more than 60 albums, Wilson has enriched three remarkable collaborations.

First, there was 1961’s The Swingin’s Mutual!, a bright ‘n’ breezy outing with George Shearing, followed, less than a year later, by her landmark mating with mentor Cannonball Adderley. Twenty-two more years passed before Wilson defined compatibility for a third time by joining forces with old friend Ramsey Lewis for the warm, wonderful The Two of Us. Now, 18 years having come and gone, Wilson and Lewis are together again for the aptly titled Meant to Be. Listening to their two albums side by side, it’s hard to believe that even 18 minutes have passed.

Divided almost evenly between instrumentals and vocals, Meant to Be’s 11 tracks are testament to two sophisticated pros whose individual and combined brilliance shows no sign of abating. The duo’s sweet and slow “First Time Love” complements Lewis’ take on a long saunter through the tranquil title tune. The pair returns for a gorgeous treatment of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” (complete with a tidy little Lewis homage to Brubeck), and they add a dash of sin with Dave Frishberg’s saucy “Peel Me a Grape.” Seven equally succulent treats are on the CD, including “Velvet Night,” a Lewis solo as smooth and rich as vintage cognac, and a soaring version of “Piano in the Dark” that ranks among Wilson’s most stunning achievements.

Meant to Be may be that rarest of show biz rarities-a sequel that’s better than the original. It is, however, such a satisfying experience that it begs an obvious question for Wilson: Now that you’ve so splendidly rekindled your musical love affair with Lewis, isn’t it time to give George Shearing a call?

Originally Published