Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis
and drummer Chad Taylor
's 2017 studio session Radiant Imprints
(Musicube/Off, 2018) was hailed by many critics and fans alike as one of the best recordings of 2018. It was indeed a true revelation, yet that recording wasn't the genesis of a major talent. Lewis' inaugural release Divine Travels
(Okeh, 2014) accomplished that feat. As for Taylor, he has been on our radar since the 1990s with Rob Mazurek
and the various Chicago Underground ensembles, Fred Anderson
, Marc Ribot
and, of late, Jaime Branch's Fly Or Die. This live date reaches further and, in many ways, surpasses their astonishing initial studio recording.
This 66-minute performance at the 2019 Jazz Festival Willisau kicks off with "Twenty Four" a crafty recalculation of John Coltrane
's "26-2." The duo doesn't so much cover Trane's 1960 composition as create a vortex of sound and energy with pieces and parts of the original flying off at odd angles. They use the same formula for "Imprints," Coltrane's "Impressions" reimagined. Like their original studio effort, the pair eschew mimicry without dishonoring the original music. "Radiance" the duo's take on "Seraphic Light" from Stellar Regions
could be labeled "Stellar Regions 2.0." Taylor isn't quite channeling Rashied Ali
as he is gathering together a legacy from Elvin Jones
to Billy Higgins
and Hamid Drake
. Duke Ellington
's "Come Sunday" opens with Taylor's thumb piano creating a rainforest for Lewis to gently tread. Dewey Redman
and Ed Blackwell
performed "Willisee" at this same festival in 1980 (Red And Black In Willisau
(Black Saint, 1985)). Lewis and Taylor recreate the same spirit and energy, even surprising themselves at the heights they have scaled. The encore, "Under/Over the Rainbow," takes us home with reassuring brushwork and an empty-the-tanks sound that leaves the crowd satisfied.
Twenty Four; Radiance; Matape; Come Sunday; Imprints; Watakushi No Sekai; With Sorrow Lonnie;
Willisee; Under/Over the Rainbow.