James Brandon Lewis Trio – No Filter (2016)

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This is James Brandon Lewis’ second album since his big label debut Divine Travels, an amazing sonic document where he teamed with big names William Parker and Gerald Clever, and wound up getting wide recognition himself. It’s an album that we surmised that “in the company of living legends, James Brandon Lewis articulates a big sound and deftly reconciles the worlds of the spiritual and the cerebral.” But the progressive-minded saxophonist, composer and bandleader didn’t rest on that success: for last year’s Days of Freeman he did stick with the sax/bass/drums getup but swapped Cleaver and Parker for Rudy Royston and electric bass legend Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Freeman also swapped much of the gospel substance of the prior release for another one of Lewis’ big childhood influences, 90s hip hop.

No Filter (October 28, 2016 via BNS Sessions) unveils yet another new trio, signaling its importance by billing this record under the “James Brandon Lewis Trio.” Joined by Luke Stewart on electric bass and Warren G. Crudup III on drums, No Filter extends the ideas introduced on Freeman by bringing forward the free-funk ideas Ornette Coleman introduced with his Prime Time band and progresses them forward to the next logical step of this branch of the fusion tree: merging funk-jazz with a particularly fertile era for hip hop. What’s more, Lewis doesn’t rely on sampling, programmed beats and — for the most part — rapping itself to channel the hard-hitting style of the genre. He doesn’t even abandon the all-acoustic, straight-jazz persona we hear on Travels, it’s that same guy but with more facets.

Lewis is playing loud, pronounced and aggressive and with some urgency but his distinction among the avant-garde sax blowers is his deeply-rooted RnB character that takes just a little edge off the bite. Positioned in between Lewis’s tenor sax and Crudup on drums, Stewart plays a critical role in making Lewis’ vision work. His bass speaks Tacuma’s language in the funkified way it swerves and walks, apparent on “No Filter,” but take a gander to how Stewart oscillates between synchronizing with Lewis and syncopation and Crudup on the eruptive opening track “Say What.” “Raise Up Off Me” is another example of where Lewis and Stewart combine on the the theme and then split off onto parallel improv paths. The emotion here and elsewhere is unrelenting and in its own way, it swings.

Lewis invites P.SO the Earth Tone King (nee P.Casso) on “Y’All Slept” to offer up a brief rap, alongside Anthony Pirog adding some chiming, fuzz tone guitar. The album ends appropriately with a “Bittersweet” ballad, featuring Nicholas Ryan Gant’s voice tracing Lewis’ melodic lines, a smokey, falsetto slowed-down jazz scat adding wrinkles to the uncomplicated three chord figure.

James Brandon Lewis shows once again that it doesn’t anything more than a sax, bass and drums to innovate in jazz, as long as the enlightenment is abundant. True to its name, No Filter puts seemingly nothing between what he hears in his head and what you hear on this record.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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