James Brandon Lewis Trio
Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis is a relentless explorer in many realms, letting his innate curiosity take him to new places. He’s used molecular structures as a model for his compositions, he’s written music inspired by the inventions of George Washington Carver, and he’s embraced an ever-widening circle of collaborators. The Buffalo native emerged more than a decade ago when he was signed to the Columbia-owned imprint OKeh, releasing two disparate albums that the world wasn’t quite ready for, one embracing free jazz in the company of William Parker and Gerald Cleaver and another celebrating the post-Ornette Coleman jazz funk of the extraordinary bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma.
But in the last few years listeners have recognized the fiery energy and passionate soul in his music. He first made a splash with a suite of tunes inspired by his studies with bassist Charlie Haden at CalArts, a dynamic quintet outing featuring the late trumpeter Jaimie Branch that revealed his ability to blend knotty free jazz with indelible themes and funky grooves. His 2021 album Jesup Wagon, featuring another superb quintet including bassist William Parker, drummer Chad Taylor, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and cellist Christopher Hoffman which topped the prestigious Jazz Critics Poll that year, firmly propelled Lewis into the upper echelons of the jazz world. As Giovanni Russonello wrote in the New York Times about his playing, “Even when the music reaches a cruising speed, Lewis takes his time on the horn, more interested in making sure you get a clear taste of each note than in hurrying along to the next idea.”
At Big Ears Lewis presents Eye Of I, his debut album for the rock label Anti Records (to be released in February 2023), a choice that makes sense considering some of the tracks feature contributions from the Messthetics, which features members of Fugazi. Lewis is a natural connector, bringing different ideas and styles together, but his intensity and signature sound always mark everything he does.