Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fender Rhodes Scholars: A tribute to Robert Lamm, Stevie Wonder, Ramsey Lewis, and Herbie Hancock


The four names of my tribute I list in ascending order: the last, Herbie Hancock, being in my estimation the head of the class of the Fender Rhodes electric piano "scholars" -- while the first, Robert Lamm, being the lesser of the four, though still remarkable compared with all those who didn't quite make the grade.

Perhaps one of the most important features of the Fender Rhodes electric piano is its uniqueness which sets it apart from the acoustic piano. Those who consider the Fender Rhodes electric piano to be merely a second-class copy or substitute for the acoustic piano will tend to under-utilize, or not utilize at all, its unique features.

One of those unique features is the sound produced when keys are hit hard. I remember my piano teacher in high school, Mr. Doyle, telling the class that the Fender Rhodes, unlike the acoustic piano, has no capacity for soft and hard sound. As the reader may know, the name of the acoustic piano is a shortening of the Italian word pianoforte (the older name for the piano), which literally means "soft-hard" -- since the piano can play both soft or hard sounds (and many shades in between) depending on how softly, or how hard, you hit the keys. It didn't take long for me to realize Mr. Doyle was simply incorrect. In fact, you can play soft or hard on the Fender Rhodes. Granted, the many subtle shades of soft and hard one can elicit from the acoustic piano are not possible on the Fender Rhodes -- but nevertheless, the claim that soft and hard are completely unavailable on the Fender Rhodes is simply false. And particularly with the hard possibility, the player can produce a rather cool percussive effect on the Fender Rhodes, especially with middle-range notes and down to the bass notes.

Robert Lamm

Robert Lamm, keyboardist, songwriter, and lead singer for Chicago, applied this effect with deft aplomb in the song Mongonucleosis (on Chicago VII, the "leather" album).

This, in turn, is related to another nice effect the player can produce on the Fender Rhodes -- chords in the low middle to deep range that sound murky, clustered, somewhat dissonant, and richly percussive. Lamm evidently appreciated this capacity and deployed it well -- to some extent on the aforementioned Mongonucleosis, but most notably in the intro to Lifesaver as well as in the jazz jam Devil's Sweet (both also on the "leather" album).  On other Chicago albums, we note this distinction throughout Rediscovery as well as in the beginning of Hollywood (both on Chicago VI, the "paper money" album); and in Brand New Love Affair (Part I and II, from Chicago VIII, the "needlepoint bird" album). On these songs, Lamm also employs the percussive single note effect.

Both of these effects -- the percussive single note, and the percussive murky cluster chord -- Lamm also deployed on his first solo album, Skinny Boy, perhaps most acutely in the instrumental reprise to Love Song, but also with luscious skill in the main singing version of Love Song.  In both versions, Lamm also integrates the contrapuntal technique of opposing deep bass keys along with the mid-range to deep clotted chords.

Stevie Wonder

Secret Life of Plants 

 Perhaps oddly, I chose to elevate Stevie Wonder above Robert Lamm.  I really have no good reason to do so, because Lamm is that good.  Not only that, but Wonder used the Fender Rhodes in recordings far fewer times, as far as I know (which is saying a lot, because Lamm himself tended to favor the acoustic piano and has a rather sparse track record, compared with my two top luminaries on my list).  However, despite all this, one song alone from Wonder's oeuvre is so strong in the Fender Rhodes department, it lifts his status up in my eyes (and ears):  namely, Power Flower, from his Secret Life of Plants double album.  Again, Wonder makes expert use of the two main qualities of the instrument I noted above: the murky, clotted, condensed nature of the chords (where "murky" is achieved in great part by utilizing more the deeper range, probably below middle C), and the percussive aspect -- though mostly, this is subdued by the sheer "murkiness" Wonder achieves.  It isn't completely submerged, however, for an inescapable ingredient to that murkiness requires some degree of percussivity.  Not only that, but Wonder displays an interesting restraint throughout the song which many other "Fender Rhodesians" fail to sustain.  Typically, a player will start out in a song with a promising style, but the infectious spirit and momentum of the song may tempt him to start devolving a bit too promiscuously and enthusiastically, resulting in various errors of technique, such as hitting high notes without a sufficient percussive attack, thus sounding "rinky-dink", and cluttering up the structure with too much improvisation.  Robert Lamm tended to do this in the otherwise impeccable Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home (from Chicago III, the "torn flag" album), regrettably eliminating it from consideration in my study here.  At any rate, throughout Power Flower, Wonder maintains the integrity of his Fender Rhodes, only in subtle ways branching out with notes, dyads or triads here and there, grounding the "flower" of his paean with the solid earth and interesting rock garden of the interlocking marble stones and dalles of his accompaniment.  As the listener pays close attention, he detects in Wonder's play a sure hand, and sure fingers, able to sound the keys with a notable combination of casual delicacy and unerring control.

Fulfillingness's First Finale

Speaking of this pleasingly understated style, Wonder's Rhodesmanship in some of the songs on his 1974 album, Fulfillingness's First Finale, may easily go unnoticed unless one pays close attention.  In Smile Please, and more subtly, Creepin', one can sense a master at ease, feeling no need for flashy showmanship or histrionics, and imbuing the atmosphere of the song with just the right sound from a use of rich, deep chords.  Similarly, It Ain't No Use, which in addition manages the unassuming feat of incorporating high keys here and there without the slightest intonation of the crime of rinky-dinkiness -- an electric piano error I am for some reason acutely attuned to detecting.  After hearing so many different artists on so many different albums over the years toodling away on high notes without a care or any sense of moderating the sound in order to eliminate that annoying tinny tonality, it is so refreshing to hear its studied, yet effortless, avoidance in Wonder's accomplishment.

Songs in the Key of Life

We next come to my favorite of Wonder's albums, Songs in the Key of Life.  Before I get to that, I must mention the fact that my review skips the album that came out previous to Fulfillingness's First Finale, the 1973 album Innervisions.  Why?  Simply put, because evidently he hadn't yet matriculated and graduated to his full scholarship: the two main songs that employ the Fender Rhodes -- Jesus Children of America, and Livin' for the City -- I regret to say, feature the cloying style of the rinky-dink noodling.  Also, on listening to them again just now, I note another annoying aspect that usually accompanies rinky-dinkism: a kind of wobbly, watery, glassy sound.  It's vaguely akin to the xylophone and the vibraphone, but definitely inferior to them.  Similarly, while Too High doesn't really veer off into rinky-dinkland, it remains watery to a fault.  Apparently, Wonder was a fast learner, however, and only a year later, in his subsequent album, he displayed amazing progress.

Sir Duke

And so, speaking of amazing progress, we hear even more delicious verve from the Fender Rhodes on the 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life.  Where to begin with this uniquely magical session?  Why not with Sir Duke, that wondrously infectious gem of jazz!  Wonder's accompaniment on the Fender Rhodes is superb -- yet, again, modestly assimilated along with the rest of the gang of instruments.  An inquisitive and discriminating ear is necessary to uncover the treasure he's offering.  While again he navigates the effervescence of the song with clotted chords of the deeper registers, juxtaposing the percussive bass keys, he also a couple of times comes perilously close to diversifying with higher notes -- but each time, it is executed flawlessly.  Most notable in this particular number is his devilish choice to follow along with the interludes during which the brass (two saxophones and two trumpets) and the electric bass are synched up exactly along a madly precisioned, frenetic, and extended line of notes.  Most any other musician would have chosen to play higher keys, but Wonder is right along with the skilfull jazz artists he has enlisted every step of the way, fingering the deeper bass keys.  A more conservative musician might have thought, "I don't want to play bass notes, when the electric bass is already prominent in this part..."  But Wonder's decision turns out to be a stroke of genius.  It's difficult to tell the Fender Rhode's bass keys from the electric bass when they are both sounding the exact same notes, especially when the tempo is so fast.  At times, the only discernible difference is the peculiarly metallic, percussive attack of the former, which, when the listener catches it, elicits a frisson of pleasure.

Isn't She Lovely

When I next took a fresh listen to another track on the album, Isn't She Lovely (a song I've listened to and played along with on the acoustic guitar probably a hundred times over the years), I suddenly got worried that perhaps mistakenly I had been assuming that Stevie Wonder was the one playing the Fender Rhodes on these songs.  I panicked when my first look at a discography website only listed Greg Philinganes as playing keyboards on various songs of this album.  I then looked him up on YouTube, just to see if his style matched the superlative stylings on this album.  The couple of songs I found in which he plays a Fender Rhodes were mediocre and dominated by the rinky-dink tendency.  Then, thankfully, I found a more complete discography on Wikipedia which indeed specifies Stevie Wonder playing Fender Rhodes on the following tracks: 

Love's in Need of Love Today
I Wish
Knocks Me Off My Feet
Ordinary Pain
Black Man
Isn't She Lovely.

There isn't much new to say about the last song I was mentioning earlier -- Isn't She Lovely -- beyond all the praises I have articulated heretofore, simply inflected within the context of the song itself.  Wonder put his characteristic deep and strong fullness in chording to solidly satisfying use here, and without it, the song simply wouldn't be the same; although probably most listeners never notice its essential role.  And as with Sir Duke, though less flamboyantly, Wonder follows with deep bass keys (and perhaps a triad at each climax) in perfect synch with a repeated fast line of notes that crops up at every turnaround.

Black Man, I Wish, Knocks Me Off My Feet, As, Ordinary Pain

 The song Black Man is not terribly remarkable; other than what seems to be an acrobatic and forcefully hectic bass key play afoot (though it's too difficult to tell if it's not all electric bass with some special effects), at certain moments Wonder lurches into a soupçon of rinky-dinkitude and otherwise seems to be modifying the sound with electronic bells & whistles.

While the Fender Rhodes in I Wish has slight spasms that sound almost rinky-dinkish, I must solemnly forgive them all -- for the song is just that kickass; and virtually all of the playing is stellar.  It's possible that the slight spasms I alluded to are an unavoidable fallout from the fact that in this song particularly, Wonder is negotiating and navigating exchanges of dyads & triads in quick syncopations.  At any rate, the richly clotted feel of the deep chords and bass keys redeems the song eminently.

Alas, no one is perfect:  in Knocks Me Off My Feet, Wonder unfortunately divagates into rinky-dinky forays a bit too much.  Nevertheless, I remain ambivalent about this song, because it's such a good song, and because when his Fender Rhodes playing hits the mark (which is most of the time), it works quite well -- particularly when coordinating with his own overtracked acoustic piano.  Such a combination should be tried more.

Speaking of perfection and how no one in this life embodies it at all times, even Herbie Hancock in his own oeuvre, and in his guest spot on Wonder's album here in the song As -- an otherwise sublime song -- occasionally indulges excursions into rinky-dinksterism.  Not all his playing here suffers so; certain areas are delicious, but overall, I cannot bless it with my imprimatur.  But with Herbie, that's okay; he can rest on his laurels (about which more in the section devoted to him coming up soon, after Ramsey Lewis) all day long.

As I listened to Ordinary Pain again, I begin to notice a theme here:  That of whether a song is mixed with good and poor techniques (rendering me more or less ambivalent), and whether the artist has otherwise produced enough excellence to redeem him from getting flunked from his Rhodes Scholar degree.  Ordinary Pain is one of those, and I suppose what I do psychologically with a song like that is simply enjoy it on all the other levels on which it excels, and try to ignore lurking signs of the three capital crimes I have teased out thus far:  1) rinky-dinkiness; 2) watery tonality; and 3) adulterating the original sound with special effects.  As I said above, whether these "crimes" ruin a song depends upon a variety of factors, and sometimes a song is so it good survives -- as a good song, that is, not as a good example of optimal Fender Rhodes playing.

So, to recap:  only two songs survive my finicky criteria -- Sir Duke and Isn't She Lovely.  Isn't it something, that a mere two songs can be so entrancing of Fender Rhodes playing that they raise the entire album up as an exemplar of the type?  And not only that, they join with the previous album I reviewed above, Fulfillingness's First Finale, to elevate Stevie Wonder into the pantheon of Fender Rhodes Scholars.

Onward and upward now, to...

Ramsey Lewis

The output of Ramsey Lewis since he started in the 1960s is dizzyingly cornucopic.  Lucky for my purposes here, I only need to focus on those pieces of his that feature the eponymous instrument (though I may well have overlooked some examples, since I haven't had the pleasure of hearing all of it).  With Ramsey, unlike Stevie Wonder and Robert Lamm, we have someone who has reached supernal heights on the acoustic piano, which is his real instrument where one senses he is most at home.  Nevertheless, most great acoustic pianists, whether in jazz, pop or rock, rarely are able to master the subtler, finer points of the Fender Rhodes, and more often than not, botch it.  Not so Ramsey.

Before I get to the wonderful news about Ramsey, I must dispense with some examples that show that while he is an eminent scholar of this instrument, he is no saint: his playing has often been imperfect.

Sun Goddess

Speaking of imperfection:  on the first album he made which contains a jewel -- Sun Goddess -- there are, alas, a few clunkers, which with dispatch I'll dispense with.  Tambura -- nice percussive stabs here and there, but mostly compromised by the faults of watery tone and rinky-dinks.  Jungle Strut -- the usual sins; and I realized on listening that one problem with rinky-dink is that it entails an unappealing percussivity -- in a sense, a "cheap" sound.

Don't It Feel Good

Similarly from the 1975 album, Don't It Feel Good, the songs that do employ the Fender Rhodes -- Can't Function and Juaacklyn -- are rather thoroughly watery & rinky-dink.


Considering the 1976 album Salongo, we must unfortunately conclude the same -- watery & rinky-dink Fender Rhodes.  Brazilica has some quite nice moments (particularly when Lewis embarks upon an extended solo the first time: those opening mid-range notes are exquisite).  Overall, though, the song is, alas, marred by the curse of the watery rinky-dinks...

Speaking of that (that seems to be all I've been speaking of...!), if ever there was an attempt at a good case for the defense of the watery rinky-dinks, it would be the long opening, and then the closing, of his beautiful song Nicole from the same album.  Lewis almost achieves the effect of a celesta and in many ways I suppose one could look at a transformation of the Fender Rhodes into another instrument here (though one could reasonably ask why he didn't simply choose to use a celesta for the song...?).  I would grant that; though I can't help the nagging feeling that had Lewis gone into that song more obsessively scrupulous about avoiding the Fender Rhodes "sins", he may have achieved an even superior effect in the end.

Sun Goddess (reprise)

Now to backtrack to the jewel, Sun Goddess.  I refer to the title track of the 1974 album of the same name.  A stellar song in so many ways (particularly that novel type of rhythm guitar strumming), and what impels it into the stratosphere Ramsey's keymanship.  It is, nonetheless, another case of a perfection paradoxically flawed -- but only minimally.  There are hints of the two "original sins" here and there, but overall, this song stands as a kind of pioneering gold standard of the phenomenon showcased in this essay. Whatever golden moments we may enjoy in this song are exponentially advanced in his next two albums, beyond all our wildest dreams.

Tequila Mockingbird

As I've been writing this essay, I've been listening to these songs afresh; and while doing so, I've been thinking more carefully about my taste and criteria with regard to my central point here.  As a result, I find myself a tad chagrined that upon listening again to Wandering Rose (the second cut on the album) -- a song I was sure from memory would easily make the grade -- that it is rather full of defects in the watery & rinky-dink departments.  Don't get me wrong; the song is still exquisite, but now I realize it could have been that much better, had Ramsey tightened up his playing.  This is also not to say there aren't many moments of impeccable Rhodesmanship in the song.  The question, though, at the end of the day, is: are there enough good moments to outweigh the bad?  It's a rhetorical question, meant to provoke a provisional assessment every time we give this song, and any other of the imperfect songs under scrutiny, a fresh listen.

Speaking of songs I was sure from memory would be impeccable, I'm almost afraid to listen to one of the other Fender Rhodes features of the album, Camino del Bueno again...   Here goes...  Sigh... I just listened to it, and regretfully must report too much rinky dink and watery tones -- notwithstanding otherwise fine playing.  Another flaw I just noticed in these twin sins is the way dyads or triads sound when carelessly played without heed for the utmost quality of sound.

The least likely -- in my memory at least -- candidate for the best Fender Rhodes song is in My Angel's Smile.  Though again (sorry to so tediously belabor this point) it is not perfect and involves the twin flaws, it sufficiently excels in avoiding them to qualify.  Other qualities Ramsey utilizes here of note:  his ultra-high staccato emphases at crucial junctures, his nice use of the sustain pedal for rich-bodied chords at the right time, and his appropriate use of glissando at the very end.

Speaking of glissando, there is one paradisic moment in Skippin' that must be acknowledged where, after the acoustic piano solo, Ramsey performs a long series of ascending, run-on arpeggias ending up impossibly high -- followed by the same arpeggios on the Fender Rhodes (ending on a sumptuously incisive high key that sounds like the highest key on the whole damned board).


Certainly the album that Ramsey issued some three years later in 1980, Routes, which shows a marked and distinct evolution in style and refinement of sound engineering, may be his best album, it does not really showcase the Fender Rhodes sufficiently -- other than one excellent song -- to merit a major place in the pantheon.  (Now, if we were grading our papers on the basis of acoustic piano, this album would indeed earn a place in the stars.)

While the first song on the album, Whisper Zone, is an aesthetically ethereal delight, and while the Fender Rhodes does have a cool effect enabling its high notes to be more pointedly scintillating, it perpetrates the rinky dink so much it's positively tinkly dink...  It thus fails the specific test of my essay here.

The only pertinent song, Tondelayo, does pass the test.  At the beginning, Ramsey earns the distinction of playing a deep -- and I mean deep -- bass line with the bass keys with the sexiest verve I have ever heard them played.  The single note fills and the solo are also flawless in their tonality.

Herbie Hancock


On this album, Actual Proof  in a way is just one long extended Fender Rhodes solo, riding over the complex waves of amazing polyrhythms from the drums and bass  (ably mastered by Mike Clark and Paul Jackson, respectively).  I wish I could render a verdict devoid of ambivalence -- but, alas, I cannot.  I must reiterate again that my extreme strictures for the purposes of this essay do not necessarily detract from the wonder of such songs as this (nor from my enjoyment of them).  It's just that under the tighter lens of my scrutiny here, I find certain key aspects wanting.  In those terms, then I'd say that the compressed yet powerfully broad glissandos Herbie does a few times (also, nicely, at the very end) are perhaps the best feature.  Otherwise, I'm afraid that the songlong solo, while fabulous in other terms, just doesn't measure up.

While I began with some criticisms of Actual Proof; the other Fender Rhodes songs are even more flawed (but, again, still great on their own terms).  While I'm here, I would note that Palm Grease and Spank-a-Lee do evince quite impressive accompaniment (as opposed to soloing) from the Fender Rhodes, in terms of nice thick chords acrobatically fielded in the pertinent junctures.  And in a way my more intense focus here is forcing me to adopt a higher standard where ordinarily I would praise these feats unequivocally.  Nevertheless, I must be ruthless for the precise purposes here.  There are also a couple of moments in Butterfly where Herbie's appositely percussive single notes rise to a noteworthy level.


Let us now try his next album of all new songs, Man-Child -- perhaps his best album overall. 

Sun Touch 

Sun Touch is exquisite for its Fender Rhodesmanship.  It veers ever so faintly on an erring vector when Herbie connects his meandering play with triads or dyads, moving me to wonder if there is something about such two-note and three-note blocks which, when they are of a high register and when they are deployed quickly amid a complex run of notes, is inherently liable to the watery and/or tinkly problematics.  I.e., perhaps it's unavoidable; but still, I feel convinced it can be done better.  It's likely that Herbie was not, at that precise moment, nor in his reflection about it in rehearsal, fully cognizant of the obsession I am articulating here, and thus he was not on guard against so veering.  Other than that lurking hint of a problem, overall this song is a masterpiece.  As with Actual Proof, Sun Touch is one long extended solo practically from start to finish, and Herbie weaves his notes throughout in thoughtful intricacy and musing experimentation -- almost as though he were pondering the keys in meditative motion.  A nod should also be lent to his use of echo and reverb effects combined with the sustain pedal -- not overtly hamming it up; rather, only in ways entrancingly appropriate to every passing moment (and the hi-hat and cymbalwork of the drummer, which might be the first of three listed at Discogs, Mike Clark).

Steppin' In It

I may be blunter and less verbose here and just say that this song has essentially two Fender Rhodes solos:  the first one is excellent; the second one (immediately following the amazing harmonica solo by guest artist Stevie Wonder) unfortunately succumbs to all the sins I've described variously above.  The first one also attains a near perfect ability to surmount the problem of the dyad & triad I've already mentioned -- not quite succeeding, but so close I can almost say that it reverses the "close but no cigar" cliché.


After all the smoke has cleared, and I actually reviewed these various albums and songs afresh, I found that my memory of them was not all that accurate.  I began writing this thinking that Herbie Hancock was the clear winner, and that Ramsey Lewis was the clear runner-up.  I'm no longer so sure.  The phenomenon of relative superiority has become complicated, so much so that I almost feel like juggling all four in some kind of perpetual equilibrium whereby one of them may momentarily bob up higher while my focus trains on them, then recede when my attention moves to another.  This dynamic in turn is further complicated by the relative forces of various individual songs, transcending both albums and, at the end, artists.

I.e., there are songs, or areas of songs, where Robert Lamm or Stevie Wonder is every bit as good, or even better, than Herbie Hancock or Ramsey Lewis.  I thus cannot definitively pronounce a winner of this esteemed competition.  Perhaps if I thought about it more rigorously, I could come up with one; but I'm not so sure I would want to expend that amount of time and effort, not knowing whether it would be a waste of time in the end. 

Afterword:  Honorary Scholars & Flunkeys

Among the former category, I note Harry Connick, Jr., and Paul McCartney.  Among the latter, Al Zulaica, Norah Jones, Tom Coster, and Bob James.

Harry Connick, Jr.

I haven't heard more than a few albums from Harry, and among them all, there is only one song where he digs into the Fender Rhodes.  Specifically, on his album She, in the song That Party, Harry remarkably captures the cooler mechanics of the art, distinctly harking back to the 70s style of playing, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney, by contrast, has a few noteworthy efforts on the instrument -- not quite enough, somehow, to warrant my induction of him into the Hall of Fame above.  The songs I would cite are:

Ram On (from his second solo album, Ram) isn't bad -- nice use of the deep bass notes and chording, with an echoey effect put to good use.  At certain points it does veer to the brink of the rinky-dink, particularly toward the end, but the good parts remain noteworthy.

Picasso's Last Words (from the Red Rose Speedway album) -- Here (after the "French" clarinet interludes), Paul demonstrates a nice exploitation of the deep percussive bass keys and deep clotted chords, employed unassumingly but quite competently.

Al Zulaica

Al Zulaica, an otherwise fine keyboardist (acoustic piano mainly) backing up Latin jazz bands, especially Cal Tjader, performs rather dismally when he tries his hand at the Fender Rhodes.  Basically every song on the album Agua Dulce where he plays the instrument, he does so poorly in terms of the criteria I've adduced here.  Curaçao, in particular, squanders the potential of an unusual interplay between electric piano and vibes which would have benefited from a stricter application of style; while the solo is well nigh atrocious.  The only song where he approaches a hint of what he could have done is Descarga Cubana -- all the more painful when one thinks of what might have been...

Norah Jones

As for Norah Jones, I'm even less acquainted with her work than any of the other names here.  This tube chop of a live performance indicates a refreshing interest in the Fender Rhodes, unlike many of her peers -- but, alas, there occur too many slip-ups to constitute a passing grade...

Tom Coster

I wish I didn't have to add Tom Coster to the list of Flunkeys...  His memorable début solo for Santana on the Caravanserai album, on the song La Fuente del Ritmo, certainly is accomplished, dazzling the ear with a nimble aplomb all up and down the keys reminiscent of Bob James; marred, nonetheless, by the twin sins.  Tom's subsequent work on the album Welcome shows promising signs.

On Love, Devotion and Surrender, for example, he manages the high end in terms of sprinkly notes and dyads & triads well most of the time, but perhaps not enough of the time to rise up to distinction.  Samba de Sausalito is essentially one long Fender Rhodes solo -- and my review of it is thoroughly mixed.  It's a maddening interlocking jigsaw puzzle of good and bad techniques; and for that reason alone I am sorely tempted to render an unfavorable verdict.  When I Look Into Your Eyes elicits a milder ambivalence, and anyway, for its faults, has some very neat use of deep single notes in synch with flute, not to mention plenty of satisfactory chordism along with bass notes, that I wouldn't feel too guilty twitching a thumb upon when nobody's looking...  Yours Is The Light, meanwhile, again has deeply pleasing chordwork, as well as single notes in tandem with the vocals of Flora Purim, perfectly enunciated with his fingers.  Perhaps the juiciest song (on this album, at any rate) in terms of exploiting the potential of the Fender Rhodes to evoke dreamy reverberations of metallically crystalline nuances is Light of Life, along with a couple of brief solos that execute mid-range notes passably well.  The incessantly regular chording in Flame/Sky is nicely fitting, and nice to hear.

Bob James

Speaking of Bob James:  He's a great arranger, with a great sense of quality soft jazz.  But I had to laugh when I went over to YouTube just now to reacquaint myself with him, starting with the album Touchdown -- and within the first 60 seconds of Angela (a wonderful song, don't get me wrong), he reminded me that he earns the dubious distinction of being the King of the Watery Rinky-Dink.  He was quite a distinguished jazz artist in his day, as the 70s unfolded, and it is quite possible that his style influenced others to feel they had to play the instrument that way; and Lord knows that's the way it's played by innumerable garden-variety hacks and knock-offs one has heard over the years on pop albums or in television & movie soundtracks.  This only makes those exceptions who cropped up along the way (e.g., Robert Lamm and others I mention above) that much more remarkable, for going against the grain.

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