Most listeners have long since moved saxophonist James Brandon Lewis from the rising star category to one labeled virtuoso. But then, pianist Matthew Shipp signaled this status when he mentored Lewis early on and certainly bassist William Parker ordained his arrival by recording with the saxophonist on his major label debut, Divine Travels (Okeh, 2014). Parker returns for this latest release, as does drummer Chad Taylor who can be heard on the quartet recording Molecular (Intakt Records, 2020) and two duo releases Live in Willisau (Intakt Records, 2020) and Radiant Imprints (Off, 2018). Lewis' Red Lily Quintet is rounded out by cornet star Kirk Knuffke (Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom and Matt Wilson Quartet) and cellist Chris Hoffman (Henry Threadgill).
Jesup Wagon is inspired and dedicated to the African-American inventor, scientist, and author George Washington Carver, a true renaissance man on par with Leonardo da Vinci. Lewis opens the disc with a tenor exploration that calls to mind Pharoah Sanders' explorations before the quintet sets upon a folkish groove with Knuffke's cornet dancing along the the saxophonist. This composition, like the remaining were all composed by Lewis and they all have a connection to an agrarian landscape and people. Yes this is jazz, but it also comes from beyond a metropolis. Take for instance "Chemurgy" (the use of agricultural raw material in industry) which conjures the music of Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry. Here the earthiness is supplied by Parker's gimbri. The track ends with Lewis' spoken poetry, which we also hear on "Fallen Flowers." The latter song pairs Lewis and Knuffke before flowering into a meditative groove from Taylor plus bass and cello. While Lewis' tenor saxophone is built upon broad shoulders, he yields often to his quintet. Taylor's mbira flavors "Seer" which keeps the mood bright and accentuates the interlaced melody. Jesup Wagon should be in the running for album of the year honors.