Home » Jazz Articles » Album Review » James Brandon Lewis: For Mahalia With Love

10

James Brandon Lewis: For Mahalia With Love

By

Sign in to view read count
James Brandon Lewis: For Mahalia With Love
Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has been establishing himself in various contexts for the last few years, but his main focus lately has been on his Red Lily Quintet. Their first album, Jesup Wagon, (TAO Forms, 2021), was dedicated to African-American scientist, George Washington Carver. On their 2023 release, the group's music focuses on the work of the legendary gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.

This tribute takes the form of interpretations of familiar spirituals Jackson often sang. The gospel-derived power of Albert Ayler also hovers over this music, most strongly on the opening track, "Sparrow," where Lewis' tenor and Kirk Knuffke's cornet plow into the melody with graceful, unhurried power, responding to each other as Ayler and his trumpeter brother Donald Ayler did in their time.

Other tracks have more involved structures. On "Swing Low," Lewis plays melodies and counter-melodies solo, before giving way to a growling undercurrent laid down by the rhythm section, cellist Chris Hoffman, bassist William Parker, and drummer Chad Taylor. This in turn leads to the horns returning with fiery intensity. "Go Down Moses" has Lewis and Knuffke swirling around each other in soulful dialogue over Parker's relentless walking bass while on "Deep River" the horns sway in jubilant harmonies over cello and bass plucks and thumping drums. Lewis and Knuffke answer each other like exuberant choir soloists in their call-and-response on "Elijah Rock" as the drums explode under them like a congregation shouting "Amen" to a preacher's fiery sermon.

This gorgeous music reaches back to the spiritual jazz legacy of Ayler, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders and reconnects it beautifully to the passion and joy of gospel music as Mahalia Jackson and others performed it. It is a major triumph for James Brandon Lewis and his group.

The first edition of this album contains a bonus example of Lewis' many talents, a second CD presenting his composition for tenor sax and string quartet, "These Are Soulful Days," performed live by Lewis and the Lutoslawski Quartet. This extended piece weaves a blend of folk, spiritual and blues ideas into a rich fabric where Lewis' tenor can either sing placidly or lean in hard as the strings bend and breathe around him. The work reaches a high point in "Movement III" where Lewis wails the spiritual "Wade In The Water" as the quartet backs him with a choppy tango rhythm. It is all further proof of Lewis' marvelous versatility.

Track Listing

CD1: Sparrow; Swing Low; Go Down Moses; Wade In The Water; Calvary; Deep River; Elijah Rock; Were You There; Precious Lord; CD2: Introduction by JBL; Prologue - Humility; Movement I; Movement I; Movement I; Movement I; Epilogue - Resilience; Encore - Take Me To The Water.

Personnel

Album information

Title: For Mahalia, With Love | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Tao Forms

Comments


For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Tags

More

Being Human
Lynne Arriale
Big Band Stories
Fredrik Nordström
Skyllumina
Ruth Goller

Popular

Compassion
Vijay Iyer
Jazz Hands
Bob James
Esengo
London Afrobeat Collective

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.