purple translucent vinyl.
James Brandon Lewis's authoritative horn is demonstrated in his cultural influenced releases —gospel spirituality in Divine Travels (Okeh, 2014) featuring bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver; soulful lyricism and hip hop in Days of Freeman (Okeh, 2015) with heavies bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Rudy Royston. He continues that exploration with a new trio in No Filter an edgy LP which pays respect to early 90's hip hop, experimental jazz, and groove.
Lewis's inclination for trios is again at the forefront, this time with bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren G Crudup III, gifted musicians who take no prisoners. This younger crew may not be as recognized as Lewis's older counterparts but their performances speak volumes—gritty, funky electric bass and explosive percussive traps—that make an excellent foil for Lewis's tenor onslaught.
"Say What" broadcasts a raw vamp and a sampled quote expounding that the JBL trio does indeed paint with different colors. In the title track the trio work like punk rockers—punchy bass line, snappy drums and sax honks and noises. Lewis's horn urgently searches the history and present in "Y' All Sleep" with words by Brooklyn rapper P.SO the Earth Tone King and striking lines by guitarist Anthony Pirog.
"Zen" illuminates Stewart's flexing bass in a groove centric vamp while the closing track "Bittersweet" has a bluesy floating hook with singer Nicholas Ryan Gant providing some tasty falsetto jazz scatting. Lewis's No Filter incorporates specific cultural influences while reiterating the truth that art is not one dimensional or opaque.
Track Listing: Say What; No Filter; Y'all Slept; Raise Up Off Me; Zen; Bittersweet;
Personnel: James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Luke Stewart: bass; Warren G Crudup III: drums; P.SO the Earth Tone King: vocals (3); Anthony Pirog: guitar (3, 6); Nicholas Ryan Gant: vocals (6).
Title: No Filter | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Bns Records
James Brandon Lewis is a NY-based tenor saxophonist and composer with post-bop and avant-garde inclinations. Moving effortlessly with a scintillating articulation, he mixes elements of gospel (a strong background), hip-hop, and R&B.
After years playing as a sideman for renowned musicians of different genres, Lewis released his debut album, Moments, in 2010. However, it was with his sophomore Divine Travels, recorded with a powerhouse trio composed of bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, that he gained more visibility from jazz aficionados and media. The following step was Days of Freeman, another critically acclaimed trio work, featuring Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Rudy Royston on bass and drums, respectively.
Faithful to the trio formation, his new album, No Filter, was built in the company of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III. Impelled by an intoxicating natural force, “Say What” delves into a rock-inflated jazz where Lewis looses up striking patterns, showing off his considerable flair for incendiary improvisation on top of the thick carpet weaved by his trusty rhythm mates.
Cut from the same cloth, the title track adds a good slice of funk to the recipe. Lewis, questioning with vehemence and answering with exclamations, takes advantage of the natural disposition of Stewart and Crudup toward groove. The tune ends with Lewis’ voice saying ‘If the good Lord gave me these melodies, they need to be heard’.
“Y’all Slept”, a hip-hop statement featuring the MC P.SO the Earth Tone King, also gives the first welcome to the guest guitarist Anthony Pirog, who embarks on an ostinato whose melody is partially uttered by the bandleader at a faster tempo. With strenuous brio, the latter cooks his improvisation with sultry inventiveness.
“Raise Up Off Me”, relying on a provocative melody delivered almost entirely with a sax-bass unison, creates an in-depth, ardent, and passionate narrative flow.
The title “Zen” can be misleading. You won’t find this joyful chant so peaceful as the word might suggest. It’s pronounced with highly catchy melodies and upbeat refluxes of gospel and rock.
Pirog returns for the closing tune, the sweeter-than-bitter “Bittersweet”, which also features the mellow voice of Nicholas Ryan Gant.
No Filter is a thrilling record from a young saxophonist who has so much to give. Not limited in genre, he has this get-up-and-go attitude that communicates spirituality and freedom in a very intense way.
James Brandon Lewis Trio – No Filter (BNS Records, 2016)
Consisting of Luke Stewart on bass, Warren G. “Trae” Crudup III on drums and bandleader Lewis on tenor sax and vocals, the James Brandon Lewis Trio is an electrifying, forward thinking contemporary Jazz ensemble. The trio’s newest project No Filter is a forceful, dynamic set of accessible compositions and high energy performances that meld Jazz improvisation with the power and edge of a rock outfit. Nicholas Ryan Grant (scatting) and Anthony Pirog (electric guitar) also make guest appearances on the record.
Opening with the furiously rollicking “Say What”, No Filter starts off with a bang. Anchored around Lewis’ soaring sax motif, and Crudup and Stewart’s muscular rhythms, “Say What” has a feel not unlike the kind of ecstatic Funk-Rock grooves pioneered by 80s and 90s Black rockers like Fishbone and 24-7 Spyz. Keeping the energy high and the intensity fierce, the title track “No Filter” rushes in, brandishing a similar tonal character to “Say What” but it subverts the established rhythmic foundation to the point of highly detailed abstraction. Lewis blows freely, fearlessly cutting through the noise around him like a mad clarion call. The rest of the band does more than merely “keep up”. “Ya’ll Slept” is based on a rugged, delicately strung together halftime groove and opening into some expansive electric guitar and tenor sax counterpoint work. Lewis makes a serious nod to Hip Hop, by including a rap from P.SO The Earth Tone King “Don’t fear the past, I’m seeing my face in mirrored glass. I’m trying so hard not to wear the mask. Had to hold back one tear in fact, for years I traveled to here and back.” After returning to a few moments of intense Pharoah Sanders-esque blowing, the band settles into a relaxed, subtle take on the main theme, the tune’s extended coda gently drifting itself out into oblivion.
With its jagged, clip-clopping rhythm, “Raise Up Off Me” highlights the band’s
versatility and compositional prowess. No less than 30 seconds in, Lewis launches into the memorable sax riff from Gary Bartz’s classic 1975 Jazz-Funk ballad “Gentle Smiles”. Famously sampled in A Tribe Called Quest’s ubiquitous track “Butter” one can’t help but wonder if Lewis’ playing of this riff is a reference to the original tune, the Rap song that sampled it or both at the same time. It is this kind of multi-layered sonic re-contextualization that Hip Hop and sample culture has made second nature for so many young musicians. “Zen” is one of the stronger pieces found here. At times the tune is equal parts, dreamy and melodic, technical and abstract, “Zen” showcases the band’s ability to wed catchy Jazz motifs and Hip Hop sensibilities with ease and a rebellious character. Midway through, the tune marches away from its sweetly, melodious intro and dives headlong into Stewart’s aggressive, free Bass playing before jumping back into its sweet, streetwise main theme. The project concludes with the delightfully soft and tender ballad “Bittersweet”. Lewis once again proves that when he is not wailing on some of the trio’s louder,
more aggressive tunes, he can also be a master at crafting mood by coaxing timeless melody out of his horn. Coyly scatting along in unison with the sax lines, “Bittersweet” is earnest and nostalgic feeling without dipping into tasteless smooth Jazz territory. This record showcases a band that uses serious chops and boundless energy to bring fresh, contemporary ideas into the tried and true Jazz trio context.