CD review: James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet – Jesup Wagon 2021: Video, CD cover

- in New CD's Review, VIDEOS

Hayden, Golia, Dave Douglas, Joshua Redman, Matthew Shipp. His sound became more daring and interesting, and his imagination was overflowing with ideas. Unlike, alas, many jazzmen, Lewis is a man of broad interests, not alien to poetry, painting, events in the world of science.

Perhaps that is why each of his new albums was met with growing interest by both the public and the critics. In 2020, DownBeat critics recognized Lewis as a rising star among tenor saxophonists. The author of liner notes of his ninth album, renowned jazz critic Robin Kelly, describing Jesup Wagon, used such a responsible term as “discovery”. What’s the matter here? Let’s figure it out.

Remember this book series “The Lives of Remarkable People”? There was a really remarkable man in the States named George Washington Carver (1865-1943). The son of a slave, he became a musician, artist, writer, but above all – a biologist and agricultural technician. Carver drew attention to the plight of black and white farmers in the southern states. The slave-owning planters sowing cotton have depleted the soil. Carver encouraged farmers to sow peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and proved that this, with skillful crop rotation, will have an effect. With money from the prominent philanthropist Morris Jesup, he equipped a mobile laboratory, which he called: Jesup Wagon, and tirelessly traveled with it to farms in the South, convincing villagers of the correctness of his ideas. And he convinced. Peanuts defeated cotton and became the main agricultural crop in these parts. And Jesup Wagon, portrayed by Carver himself, made the cover of Lewis’ album.

Lewis created a musical biography of Carver. A real biography, reflecting in seven tracks the main stages of his activity. Where he lacked music, he introduced his own poems into the fabric of his compositions. He formulated his main task in this work as “an attempt to paint a portrait with the help of sounds, as well as taking into account a strong emotional impact.” In my opinion, he succeeded brilliantly. Lewis used a variety of styles in his music – from good old blues and African music to free jazz. The result is a very modern-sounding jazz with a definite avant-garde bias. He united in Red Lily Quintet a team of musicians, unusual in instrumentation and excellent in performance level. Lewis invited Kirk Naffke, who plays the cornet, which is rarely used today and reminiscent of the times of archaic jazz, as the second brass player in a pair with his tenor saxophone. Instead of a piano or a guitar, he introduced the cello, which is played by such a sensitive and strong master as Chris Hoffman. Lewis has been playing with drummer Chad Taylor since 2017, recorded two duet albums with him and a quartet Molecular (2020). And, finally, on bass – the living legend of free jazz, a living bridge connecting different generations – the unfading William Parker. In addition, where Lewis needed to emphasize the connection of black Americans with their African ancestral home, Parker put aside the double bass and played the Moroccan gimbri lute, and Taylor – the African mbir percussion instrument.

I will not describe the nuances of the sound of each composition – this was perfectly done by the same Robin Kelly, talking in parallel about the hero of the album – George Washington Carver. I can only say that James Brendan Lewis is one of the most attractive faces of jazz today. I don’t know if he will become a master of thought in the future, like Miles Davis or Coltrane, but so far everything is heading towards that. Lewis’s strength lies not in a breakthrough in some new direction, but in a very reasoned and verified synthesis of everything previously created, when the sum turns out to be stronger than the individual components and acquires a new quality. One final note on this release. It became one of the first in the catalog of the young label TAO Forms, which appeared only in the spring of 2020. From the names in this directory, TAO Forms releases in the vast stream of new editions are worth looking out for.

  1. Jesup Wagon
  2. Lowlands of Sorrow
  3. Arachis
  4. Fallen Flowers
  5. Experiment Station
  6. Seer
  7. Chemurgy

James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone, composition
Kirk Knuffke: cornet
William Parker: bass, gimbri (on tracks 2 & 7)
Chris Hoffman: cello
Chad Taylor: drums, mbira (on track 6)

Jesup Wagon | James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet | James Brandon Lewis

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