Monday, November 01, 2021

James Brandon Lewis Quartet - Code of Being (Intakt Records, 2021)

Saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis is one of the rising stars in the jazz world, releasing his second album of the year in the company of Aru├ín Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. The eight compositions, all by Lewis, cover a wide range of musical territory, beginning with “Resonance,” which opens the album at a medium tempo with graceful playing all around and a gradual increase in the mysterious sound. Stronger playing from the rhythm sparks deeper saxophone playing which ramps up nicely to exciting collective improvisation lead by taut saxophone. There is space for the rhythm section to play with lush piano and active bass and drums. Before the leader’s saxophone returns and the tempo returns to the slower opening feel. Gentle rhythm section playing and yearning saxophone make for an emotional setting on “Archimedean,” with the pace soon picking up to some jagged and fraught playing from saxophone and drums. The music is fast and open sounding nearly free with the personnel communicating at a very high level, especially Lewis and Taylor. Downshifting to a quieter, more yearning and emotional section marks this as one of the more dynamic performances on the record. “Per 4” has solo saxophone probing the open space, patiently and well done, joined by persistent drumming and the rest of the band falling into place. Drums push the beat forward and the band leans in developing the quality of driving or pushing ahead, creating a nice wide open full group improvisation. The title track, “Code of Being” has fast and ripe rhythm section playing with rich, intense saxophone developing alongside, creating a potent sound. Lewis’s tone gets more strident and gritty as he really digs into his solo, playing in a very exciting manner. A strong piano, bass and drums interlude forms, flush with strong cymbal play, elastic bass and flowing piano. They make their case before the saxophone glides back in and the song takes on a Milestone era McCoy Tyner like vibe, intense yet melodic. “Where is Hella” uses droning bowed bass to give the tune a spiritual vibe, and Lewis meets this with a strong stoic saxophone tone. This is very deep and exciting, locking into the late Coltrane (both John & Alice) sensibility that makes for exciting and fulfilling music, the group creates a very long, evolving performance, built like a suite with the next part focused on the deep rhythm of the bass and drums and a gentler state to the saxophone. There is a segment for a rippling piano solo backed by cymbals and bass, with the saxophone returning after a lengthy break, climbing higher back to the heavy collective improvisation, striving to the finish line. The final performance is “Tessera” beginning with lush filling piano sounding water-like, joined by romantic saxophone, creating a true ballad feel. Moving slowly and patiently with a bruised and yearning tone, Lewis causes the tempo of the performance to shift up to a freer improvisation, leading to a satisfying conclusion. This album worked very well and it is clear that James Brandon Lewis is a musician whose skill is accelerating at an advanced pace. But more than that this is a full band effort, everyone worked very well together, anticipating and reacting to each other in a very effective manner. Code of Being -

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