James Brandon Lewis takes the lyrical road less traveled with the stellar recording Divine Travels!
Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com
Somewhere between hard bop and the often misunderstood umbrella term "free jazz" we find the musical happy place of perhaps the next big thing for the tenor saxophone, James Brandon Lewis.
Joined by the impressive rhythm section of William Parker and Gerald Cleaver we find an open ended sense of impressionistic adventure based in a deceptively subtle spiritual vibe that methodically weaves a harmonic path in and out of this remarkable sophomore release.
Sonny Rollins spoke of improvisation as creating an artistic expression that is built around layers and this alone could stand as the perfect one sentence review. Influences and experiences are the melodic root while never being held captive by the more traditional forms more closely associated with improvisational music. Divine Travels appeals to the cerebral by embracing tradition but keeping an eye on the future with a dynamic vision of clarity and calling. From the more methodical "Tradition" to the more vibrant uptick of "A Gathering of Souls" there is an unusually accessible lyrical sense of purpose that would seem to allow the listener in without ever forcing the individual off the harmonic cliff.
The rhythm section of Parker and Cleaver embrace the twists and turns found within the compositions bringing forth their own unique artistic voices from a far deeper place than perhaps previously captured on any previous recording. The two collaborations with poet Thomas Sayers Ellis elevate the underlying truth that smolders just below the surface while allowing a fresh perspective to seep into music that is often predictable with a narrow field of melodic thought. The somewhat conceptual nature of a spiritually based recording that covers the edgier side of hard bop is nothing new, with the exception of Ivo Perelman it has not been carried off with the type of flair and panache found here for about forty years.
Tracks: Divine; Desensitized; Tradition; The Preacher's Baptist Beat; Wading Child in the Motherless Water; A Gathering of Souls; Enclosed; No Wooden Nickels; Organized Minorities; Travels.
Personnel: James Brandon Lewis: Tenor Saxophone; Gerald Cleaver: Drums; William Parker: Bass; Thomas Sawyer Ellis: Spoken Word