James Brandon Lewis: Molecular

Dan McClenaghan By

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James Brandon Lewis: Molecular
Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis offers up an introductory statement in the album packaging as a preface to the liner notes of Molecular. His train of thought is difficult to follow. He leaves an impression of not being a "normal" person, in the best possible sense of that assessment. It is the impression of a deep-thinking artist working hard to pin down elusive truths, tying molecular biology and "African American quilting, spirituals, jazz, the abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, the molecular mechanism behind the circadian rhythms of humans and the science fiction of Isaac Asimov..." (from Peter Magasak's liner notes) with the idea that "the idea of information of the historical record being embedded or coded within these mediums pertaining to tradition, language and survival resulting in a coded auditory perception."

That is quite the introduction to the saxophonist/composer, and if a certain amount of effort—perhaps even a good deal of effort—may be required to fully comprehend exactly where Lewis is coming from on an intellectual level, there really is no necessity of making that effort. It is—it always is—about the music. Indeed, how many listeners have a full grasp of Ornette Coleman's concepts of Harmolodics? But the music...

This is a regular quartet line-up—Lewis on tenor sax, Aruán Ortiz playing the piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor at the drums. But the music they make is anything but regular. The set opens with "A Lotus Speaks," a torrid four minutes, urgent, agitated and dark-hued, achieving three minutes in an unexpected and gorgeous resolution, like a curtain has lifted and Lewis has discovered one of those truths.

"Of First Importance" is an intense ballad—a seeming contradiction in terms, but appropriate. It is melancholic, and unfolds compositionally with a simplicity/complexity dynamic, while "Helix" turns up the ferocity knob considerably, bringing Dewey Redman, Joe Henderson's Power To The People ( Milestone Records, 1969) era, and Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite (Riverside Records, 1958) to mind.

Besides his first rate and somewhat unconventional compositions and his powerful playing, Lewis' biggest strength here is manifested by ability to create forty-six minutes of music with a continuity of focus and artistic vision, sounds that are engaging and challenging at the same time, tender and thoughtful one minute, fiery and raw the next—the gently anthemic title tune, the ominous "An Anguish Departed," the unabashedly lovely "Loverly" that closes out the album. James Brandon Lewis is a provocative and exciting artistic voice.

Track Listing

A Lotus Speaks; Of First Importance; Helix; Per 1; Molecular; Cesaire; Neosho; Per 2; Breaking Code; An Anguish Departed; Loverly.


James Brandon Lewis: saxophone, tenor; Aruán Ortiz: piano; Brad Jones: bass; Chad Taylor: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Chad Taylor: mbira.

Album information

Title: Molecular | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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