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

James Brandon Lewis Trio - No Filter

James Brandon Lewis: saxophone; Luke Stewart: bass; Warren Trae Crudup III: drums + guests: Anthony Pirog: guitar; Nicholas Ryan Gant: vocals.


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.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – What to Say ► 04 – Raise Up Off Me ► 05 – Zen