Each James Brandon Lewis album feels like an examination. There’s some idea he has stumbled across and the tenor saxophonist and his team are going to comb over every detail until they get down to the bottom of things. This has given his music a cerebral edge that can be a bit intimidating, but equally rewarding. For his latest release, An UnRuly Manifesto, that same risk and reward is present, but tempered by Anthony Pirog’s guitar rounding out this spiritual vibe and creating a bubble for this spectacular quintet to really get down to business.
Hands down, the title track is amazing. It’s a cycle that goes over and over for eleven and three-quarter minutes that somehow makes its own atmosphere. Lewis and trumpeter Jaimie Branch are trading barbs when they aren’t in total sync. This song sprawls out and one still wishes it could go even further. “Sir Real Denard” makes you dance upright, on the 1, like a James Brown hit. Luke Stewart really shines on the bass here– always playful, never doing too much, full of ideas, and knowing of just where in this mood to deploy them. He’s playing the bass with surgical precision, keeping the pulse intact. “The Eleventh Hour” keeps that same spiritual flow energy as “An UnRuly Manifesto” but with a different shade (another deeper examination, no doubt). By “Haden is Beauty”, with Warren Trae Crudup III’s drums seemingly running to break away from the pack in a marathon, the band as a whole soars, almost refreshed from the work the rest of the album was.
This is a great album. It has a groove to it that never fades in any of the compositions that makes these somewhat lengthy songs even more replayable. The vibe Lewis, Branch, Pirog, Stewart, and Crudup find here feels like true lightning in a bottle that one hopes this configuration may continue. James Brandon Lewis dedicated this album to “Charlie Haden & Ornette Coleman and Surrealism”, two groundbreaking musicians who changed the form and a concept it’s literally hard to put your finger on, which is the language through which all their music seems to speak. If this is still an investigation, who knew these things could be so fun?
An UnRuly Manifesto, the latest album from tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, is out now on Relative Pitch Records.
James Brandon Lewis – Tenor Saxophone
Jaimie Branch – Trumpet
Luke Stewart – Bass
Anthony Pirog – Guitar
Warren Trae Crudup III – Drums
Mastered by Paul Wickliffe at Skyline Pro
Mixed by Mike Reina at The Jackfields on March 9th 2018
Executive producers Mike Panico & Kevin Reilly
All compositions by James Brandon Lewis
James Brandon Lewis Music Publishing : Ascap
Art and design by Bill Mazza
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.