Monday, March 03, 2014

James Brandon Lewis - Divine Travels (Okeh, 2014)

Buffalo, NY native saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has a conception of music that is as modern as tomorrow, while his gospel roots have a connection to the spiritual jazz of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane. He says that being paired with veteran downtown improvisers William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums was “a humbling experience” but he holds his own in admirable fashion. “Divine” opens the album with a personal saxophone sound that has a touch of the coarseness of Albert Ayler, a lonely haunted sound, but one that is also at home playing in a melodic fashion, fitting in well with the thick bass and light percussion. “Desensitized” features ripe trio playing developing a complex rhythmic foundation. Lewis builds a fine swirling pattern of improvisation and there is ample support from the unbeatable team of Parker and Cleaver. There are a couple of episodes of music with spoken word accompaniment where the trio performs with the poet Thomas Sayers Ellis on tracks “The Preacher’s Baptist Beat” and “Organized Minorities.” But the focus of the disc is on the trio and their interaction throughout the album. An excellent example of this is “Wading Child in the Motherless Water” where the raw and sharply pointed saxophone Lewis conjures is spun out at length, building with both power and grace. He manipulates repetitive blocks of sound until he has constructed his own launching pad that can blast him into mighty flights of improvisation. Following hot on its heels is “A Gathering of Souls” which begins with the band playing in a pliant and flexible manner. Patience is once again the key to Lewis’ success as constructs a lengthy solo with a firm raw nature and a white-hot flame over blazing bass and drums. This was a very well played album by a talented newcomer on the jazz scene. It is a pleasant surprise that a major label will support a truly progressive musician and allow him to record challenging music with a team as talented as Parker and Cleaver. Let’s hope this is a trend that continues. Divine Travels -

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