James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto

John Sharpe By

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James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
An UnRuly Manifesto feels like the album tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has been working towards since his relocation to New York in 2012. His quintet's standout set at the 2019 Vision Festival was based around this program, no surprise given that this is such a formidable disc. Lewis retains the services of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III, who fuelled his trio date No Filter (BNS Records, 2017), and also makes that album's guest, guitarist Anthony Pirog, a permanent feature. But the addition of trumpet sensation Jaimie Branch, who shot to fame with Fly Or Die (International Anthem, 2017), lends the heat to an already potent stew.

It's clear that Lewis has a concept in mind, even beyond the album's dedication to Charlie Haden, who mentored him when he studied at CalArts, and to Ornette Coleman and Surrealism. That's evident from the interpolation into the running of four very brief, but melodic pieces, including the rippling opener "Year 59: Insurgent Imagination" and the three "Pillars," where they run through the theme but without further development. It's not as if they are throwaways. Each of them has sufficient substance that they could bear a much fuller investigation.

However the first highlight arrives very quickly with the magnificent title cut which deposits a slow burning anthemic theme atop a hypnotic lilting guitar riff. Lewis preaches with impassioned hollers, as Pirog, Stewart and Crudup modulate the vamp and play around the nonetheless insistent beat. Only slightly less uplifting, "The Eleventh Hour" inhabits similar celebratory territory. It contains a wonderful trumpet offering from Branch in duet with Stewart's electric bass, in which her artfully placed smudges of sound recall Bill Dixon. As Lewis joins, the beat intensifies as his vaulting overblown lines invoke the gritty tenor lineage of Archie Shepp, Dewey Redman and Frank Lowe.

Lewis ups the ante on a couple of tracks, where the influence of Coleman's electric Prime Time band can be felt, as well as the free funk that Lewis explored on his Days of Freeman (Okeh, 2015) LP that featured Prime Time bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma. It's notable how the egalitarian interplay between Pirog's guitar, Stewart's electric bass and Crudup's earthy drums messes with the beat, but always keep a pulse going.

The punchy "Sir Real Denard" (Coleman's given name was Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman) showcases first Stewart's popping bass and then Pirog with FX panned into two channels, as electronic beeps compete with fuzzed fretwork, as well as another bustling turn from the leader. After a blaring unison "Escape Nostalgic Prisons" leads into a knotty tumult over roiling drums, with rhythm duties handed back and forth between guitar and bass, while drums embellish. It sounds like everyone is soloing all the time.

"Haden Is Beauty" provides the final high point. Stewart begins with an acoustic bass folk blues ode which strongly evokes the dedicatee. Thereafter the drums kick off a slow dirge-like tune of drifting loveliness in which the loose interweaving of trumpet and tenor blurs the boundary between lead, support and counterpoint.

It's always refreshing to find a young artist who professes keen links back to the tradition, but is determinedly taking it to new places. With his blend of adventurous funk, electric free-jazz and indomitable spirit, Lewis seems set fair for the future.

Track Listing

Year 59: Insurgent Imagination; An Unruly Manifesto; Pillar 1: A Joyful Acceptance; Sir Real Denard; The Eleventh Hour; Pillar 2: What is Harmony; Escape Nostalgic Prisons; Haden Is Beauty; Pillar 3: New Lived, Authority died.


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

Album information

Title: An Unruly Manifesto | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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