The revolution will not be televised. Those words by Gil Scott-Heron from 1970 are more relevant to today's jazz revolution than any time since the mid-1990s, when conservatively-dressed youngsters mimicked the post-bop of the 1960s and were promoted as liberators. More recently, the touted saviors rehash a quasi-spiritual fusion that stands in for à la mode jazz. But dig a little deeper, and look past the hype, and the true champions can be found. One great example is the saxophonist James Brandon Lewis who has quietly (too quietly) and steadily produced commendable recordings. His release, An Unruly Manifesto demands attention for its fearlessness and self-assurance.
Lewis spent a brief time with a major label on his Divine Travels (Okeh, 2014) and Days Of FreeMan (Okeh, 2015). But like David S. Ware's foray into the establishment in the late 1990s, Lewis' music can't be typecast for telecast. He subsequently has done his best work with the self-released No Filter (2017) and in the excellent duo recording Radiant Imprints (Off, 2018) with Chad Taylor.
His quintet finds the return of bassist Luke Stewart, drummer Warren Trae Crudup III and guitarist Anthony Pirog from No Filter, plus the New York-Chicago-now-New-York-again trumpet of Jaime Branch. The music is built upon propulsion on tracks like "Sir Real Denard" and "Escape Nostalgic Prisons." The latter hits you square in the chest, the former shapes an urgency much like that of Steve Coleman's music. Lewis' music is informed by both hip-hop and rock, yet there's no doubt he is advancing the traditions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. His wordplay allusions to Ornette's "Beauty is a Rare Thing" are found on "Haden Is Beauty," a dedication to Charlie Haden with Stewart's opening and an intonation borrowed from the band New And Old Dreams with Lewis as Dewey Redman and Branch honoring Don Cherry. And, like many a recording by that quartet, this eight-minute piece could have continued on for another thirty minutes without complaint. Which brings us to the title track, which is anything but an obstreperous trip. It builds energy upon a forward thrust with Lewis' confident Herculean tenor clearing a forest of today's jazz posers.
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.