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Urban Knights: Urban Knights IV

Under the transgenerational wings of legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis and his producer son, Frayne, Urban Knights has made a welcome transformation from a glossy all-star project to a breeding ground (and now showcase) for some first-rate Chicago musicians. On Urban Knights IV (Narada Jazz 70876-15321-2-8; 55:50) the music is still that radio-friendly urban-R&B-contemporary hybrid, but the core quartet of Lewis, keyboardist Kevin Randolph, bassist Sharay Reed and drummer Calvin Rodgers keeps things interesting through accomplished play, complicated rhythms and detailed arrangements that avoid prolonged lapses into the overwrought side of the genre.

“Moving Pictures,” for example, plays its rubber-room funk with an urban-hip rhythmic friskiness, while Lewis doodles across the top in the high register of the piano, giving the piece an easy elegance. “Slick” adds light backgrounding guitar licks to its complex beat patterns, for a deep-dark quality to contrast its sweet melody line. Even the album’s single boudoir-ballad entry (“The One”) manages elegance in its arrangement that defies its heavy-breathing vox and goofy lyric. Musician-spotlight highlights include two great covers: a spare, rocking reggae take on Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name” and a jazzy, raging workout on “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” which opens up for some of Lewis’ best soloing.

Originally Published