When saxophonist James Brandon Lewis
released Divine Travels
(Okeh, 2014) with bassist William Parker
and drummer Gerald Cleaver
, the jazz world went from "who is this guy?" to "make space at the table," because listeners had discovered a truly distinctive voice. After that came Days Of Freeman
(Okeh, 2015) with Jamaaladeen Tacuma
and Rudy Royston
and No Filter
(BNS Records, 2017) where Lewis injected hip hop culture and punk rock into improvised music without resorting to the dreaded crutch of jazz/rock fusion.
With Radiant Imprints
he doesn't so much circle back to Divine Travels
as he advances his stature as a keeper of the flame. Specifically the blaze lit by John Coltrane
. Where his previous recordings were trio outings, here he strips down further to a duo with Chad Taylor
. The much in demand drummer founded the Chicago Underground ensembles and performed with Fred Anderson
. Currently he can be heard with the likes of Jaimie Branch
, Jason Stein
, Eric Revis
, and Jeff Parker
Coltrane is indeed a touchstone here. Lewis' "Radiance" is his retelling of "Seraphic Light" from Trane's Stellar Regions
(Impulse, 1995) with Rashied Ali
. Taylor's drum introduction opens the piece, more melody oriented than Ali, and Lewis follows with a spiritually uplifting saxophone chant. The pair eschews a repertory approach to Coltrane's music, choosing to frame their personal statements within the idiom. "Imprints" takes it's structure from Coltrane's classic "Impressions," but it invokes more of a "Giant Steps" ouroboros approach, working and reworking the melody into a complex mathematical expression of all its parts. Like Coltrane, the saxophonist is almost daring other horn players to follow his path.
Taylor is a perfect collaborator here. He is best described as a hybrid mix of Elvin Jones
and Billy Higgins
. On "First Born" and "With Sorrow Lonnie" (a retelling of "Lonnie's Lament') he plays the mriba, an African thumb piano. Lewis provides plenty of space for Taylor to lead here, and their collaboration on the final track "Improve I" exhibits the duo's sympathetic nature. While the intensity continually ramps up, neither musician switches into a combative mode. Together, they build a majestic house.
Twenty Four; Loved One; With Sorrow Lonnie; Imprints; First Born; Radiance; Improve I.
James Brandon Lewis: saxophone; Chad Taylor: drums.