James Brandon Lewis - An Unruly Manifesto

Label: Relative Pitch Records, 2019

Personnel – James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Jamie Branch: trumpet; Anthony Pirog: guitar; Luke Stewart: electric bass; Warren Trae Crudup III: drums.


An UnRuly Manifesto, the new album by well-versed saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, is a call into action dedicated to Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman and Surrealism. With a quintet configuration in mind, he convened electrifying musicians to be part of the project, namely, trumpeter Jamie Branch, guitarist Anthony Pirog, and the members of his soulful trio, bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III.

After the amiable unison melody of “Year 59: Insurgent Imagination”, the opening one-minute prelude, the title track erupts confidently with a continual static groove in six underpinning short meet-and-greet sentences from trumpet and tenor. Smeary unison lines precede an infectious solo by Lewis, who, blowing with the force of a tornado, conveys a mix of vehement protest, inspirational spirituality, and fervid urbanity. His remarkably fiery tone calls up Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp, while his language is cathartic and sharp-edged as John Coltrane and Marion Brown. Branch follows him, throwing in ideas that perfectly match the context, and the tune doesn’t finalize without the horns merging together in pure ecstasy.

Pillar 1: A Joyful Acceptance” is a short-lived breezy interlude that announces “Sir Real Denard”, a tune enlivened by a funky rhythm, chunky riffs, and an overall sense of explosiveness. Much of the energy comes from the confrontational posture of the soloists - Stewart likes and infuses his groove with entanglement; Pirog shows that his stinging, effect-drenched guitar chops can go wild; Branch is more playful than ever, applying inventive pitches to terse remarks; and Lewis boasts a lot of muscle and perseverance in clearly accented phrases.

The musicians dig into these well-defined grooves with gusto, yet “Escape Nostalgic Prisons” is fist-pumping avant-jazz abrasiveness. Polluted guitar jolts with noise, chaotic rhythmic textures, and nervous horns in frantic activity, are constituents of a cacophonous strife that is as dense as it is rewarding. Quite the reverse is seen on “The Eleventh Hour”, where a sunny melody soars on top of the smooth groove composed of a linear guitar texture in consonance with the bass/drums articulation.

Wrapping up the session is “Haden is Beauty” (for the late bassist Charlie Haden), which allows you to sail in tranquil folk waters, gaining collateral jazz and rock intensity as it progresses.

This thoroughly engaging album integrates horn-driven articulations and timbres with a supple rhythmic section. You will feel the groove!

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - An Unruly Manifesto ► 05 - The Eleventh Hour ► 07 - Escape Nostalgic Prisons