Monday, August 03, 2015

James Brandon Lewis - Days of a Freeman (Okeh, 2015)

James Brandon Lewis is an up and coming saxophonist who turned quite a few heads with last years album Devine Travels, and proceeds to explore another angle by adding elements of spoken word and hip-hop to his music. The spoken word sections are nostalgic reflections on life and spirituality, and the funkiness is brought through his compositions and the support of the extraordinary electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and omnipresent drummer Rudy Royston. After a spoken introduction, “Brother 1976” develops a funky feel with the trio moving through the music as Royston sets an excellent beat. Lewis digs in for a strong improvisation, building a slinky uptempo sound before dropping off for the segue into “Of Dark Matter” where the music is shaded and muted before Lewis calls out for an opening and finds if behind some excellent bass and drum interplay that bubble along joyfully. “Black Ark” has a great beginning featuring Jamaaladeen Tacuma locked in with Rudy Royston making for a great rhythm team and allowing for Lewis to unleash his confident tenor saxophone tone without worry. The band is deep and strong, never overwhelming, but self assured in their abilities. A short hip-hop interlude precedes “Days of a Freeman” which begins at a lush ballad tempo with soft brushes before the music makes a radical turn and moves to thick hard bass, swirling dynamic saxophone and hip-hop vocals. “Bird of Folk Cries” has Lewis developing a deep saxophone sound accompanied by Tacuma’s reflected power and Royston’s skittish drumming. This feels like a good place for the group and they use it to move ever faster with slashing drums, fleet bass and charging saxophone making this a highlight of the album. Another excellent tune is “Lament for Jlew” which opens with a mysterious and enigmatic feel before dropping the hammer and moving into a massive grinding howl. The rhythm team moves mighty slabs of music and Lewis digs in and blasts some seriously heavy saxophone on top. This was a well done album and a logical follow up to Divine Travels, further exploring the religious side of his music and like his contemporary, Kasami Washington, he melds the spiritual music of forebears like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders with up to the minute hip hop. Days of Freeman -

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