1 March 2019

Album Review: James Brandon Lewis – An Unruly Manifesto

James Brandon Lewis

An Unruly Manifesto

(Relative Pitch Records)

Seasoned jazz veteran and tenor saxophonist, James Brandon Lewis has been an active and well-known player on the New York jazz scene for some time now, sharing stages with the likes of Ravi Coltrane and Jimmy Heath among a vast number of the many giants of the New York scene. This isn’t the first release we’ve come across with Lewis as leader. His previous work in both group format and compositional execution have been in themselves nods to the tenor greats, such as his preference to work in trio form made popular by jazz giant Sonny Rollins. Also his free playing, hard hitting performance and raw tone do have a rough but distinct echo of the legendary John Coltrane. Also there are elements of heavy rock influence in the fibre of his music. However, in his latest release, the saxophonist has it seems decided to tip his hat to another legend of the free jazz department and perhaps its most important icon, saxophonist Ornette Coleman. This is apparent, not just in the chosen title of the tune Haden is Beauty, referring to bassist Charlie Haden, a frequent collaborator of Coleman’s and a giant in his own right, but also in his approach towards the arrangement and performance of the entire album.

Opening up with a short track lasting only a mere fifty six seconds gives off a feeling of psychedelia with a rotated four-note melody slowly carrying the tune forwards towards a slow and weighty fanfare of trumpet and sax that lazily pushes forwards to the end. As we move on to the second track the slow but powerful building energy is still present, again with a repetitive melody pulling us through the tune, but this time left in the hands of the guitar with its mixed tone of psychedelic rock gods Pink Floyd and the Tuareg champions of desert rock Tinariwen. While the horns continue to energetically cut through the dusty landscape, pushed forward with slow but authoritative drive from the drums, this atmosphere is suddenly changed as we come to track four. Kicking off with a hard-hitting straight beat and staccato blasts from the horns, then stepping into the spotlight a thrifty bass solo reminiscent of electric bass paganini Jaco Pastorius, only to unexpectedly dive in to a melting pot of fuzzy electronic glitches and free flying horns, giving us the impression that we have stepped off of the straight and steady road. This deceptive theme carries on throughout the album. It’s definitely got that warm eastern feel that artists such as Ibrahim Maalouf and Avishai Cohen have strived to bring to western ears, but it also carries the essence of free jazz and the spirit of the forefathers who it is dedicated to.

George Richardson

James Brandon Lewis, tenor saxophone; Jaimie Branch, trumpet; Luke Stewart, bass; Anthony Pirog, guitar; Warren Trae Crudup III, drums.

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