Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Intense, Hauntingly Blues-Infused George Washington Carver Tribute From James Brandon Lewis

Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ forthcoming album Jesup Wagon – streaming at Spotify– comes across as the logical follow-up to JD Allen‘s withering, darkly erudite trio album, Americana. Both sax players plunge to the depths of the blues, typically in minor keys: Allen with his someday-iconic trio, Lewis with a quintet. Lewis’ album is more high-concept. It’s a series of tone poems in tribute to George Washington Carver, complete with some acerbic spoken word by the bandleader. In terms of concisely impactful, purposefully executed ideas, this is one of the best albums of the year.

He takes the album title from the agricultural wagon that Carver invented. He opens with the title track, a stark minor-key blues riff, meticulously modulated. Then he adds the extended technique and a wide palette of dynamics. The rhythm section – William Parker on bass and Chad Taylor on drums – enters with a jaunty shuffle, cornetist Kirk Knuffke taking a first flurrying solo. From there, Lewis expands on the blues with a purist growl

Parker switches to the magically incisive Moroccan sintir bass lute to join with cellist Chris Hoffman as a two-man bass section in the gnawa-inflected blues Lowlands of Sorrow: imagine a Randy Weston tune without the piano. Knuffke sounds the alarm, fires off biting chromatics and sets up the bandleader’s 5-7-1 riffage; the two duel it out memorably at the end.

The whole band exchange disquietly off-center harmonies but coalesce for insistent echo phrases as Taylor builds tumbling intensity in the third number, Arachis. Lewis’ smoky, squawking defiance in resisting a return to home base eventually inspires Knuffke to do the same; Parker is the rumbling voice of reason.

The marching dynamic is similar in Fallen Flowers, with strong echoes (in every sense of the word) of Civil Rights Era Coltrane. Hoffman chooses his spots, with and without a bow as Taylor keeps an altered hip-hop groove going with his pointillistic hits on the rims and hardware. Flutters and flurries agitate and disperse; Lewis sneaks a little faux backward masking in to see if anyone’s listening.

Knuffke and Hoffman trade steady, workmanlike lines as Experiment Station gets underway, ragtime through a very dark funhouse mirror. Lewis’ steely, rapidfire focus and fanged, trilling crescendo are the high point of the record. Knuffke’s Balkan allusions over Taylor’s expanding crash keep the blaze going, Parker serving as the rugged, boomy axle on which all this turns. They wind it down gingerly but methodically.

Taylor plays mbira on Seer, Parker propelling it with a slow bounce; the African instrument adds a surreal edge to an indelibly African series of minor blues riffs. The group’s concluding epic, Chemurgy has a hypnotically circling bounce, sending a final salute out to Coltrane, and the blues, and Carver, Knuffke’s sturdy cornet, and Lewis’ insistent and meticulous variations – and wise, knowing conclusion – a reminder how much struggle was involved to get to this point.

Lewis’ next gig is May 1 at around noon with his Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Taylor on drums in Central Park, on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side as part of Giant Step Arts’ ongoing weekend series there. The trio are followed at 1-ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums

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April 25, 2021 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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