Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis is thrilled to announce ‘Eye Of I’ today, his ANTI- Records debut album that swaps out the extra-musical research and cerebral high concepts of his critically acclaimed ‘Jesup Wagon’ and the aesthetic manifestos of ‘An Unruly Manifesto’ for a lean power trio of tenor sax, electronic cello and drums that reaches for singable melodies and a simple punk-band-in-the-basement credo: Chasing energy. Above all else.
With today’s announce Lewis has shared a cover of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” featuring Kirt Knuffke on the cornet. Listen to it below – you can also watch Lewis and his trio energetically perform the track at a recent Jazz Is Dead concert here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHP5ZAQVFOk
“Someday We’ll All Be Free”: https://youtu.be/13Xnm07yw5g
On covering the song and his relationship to Hathaway’s music, Lewis says: “I have always loved Donny Hathaway, not only his voice but his piano playing, in-depth lyrical content, use of metaphor and empowerment. We both also went to Howard University. I truly learned how deep he was as a musician and about his background in classical, jazz and gospel while I was in school there. I also finally reached a point where I felt I could cover him in an honest way while still being myself. He is truly a genius.”
'Eye Of I’ is a record alive with the messy contrasts of life in the United States circa 2022 – dissonant one minute and graceful/prayerful the next; animated by anger and contention as well as the possibility of resolution; holding equal space for expressions of steadfast faith and wild spontaneous skronkage.
“What I’m interested in is the dance,” Lewis says, crediting the long-term mentorship of pianist Matthew Shipp for expanding his awareness of unspoken aspects of musical conversation. “That’s a fundamental dynamic – I take some, you give some, we interact, now we have something, now we can go someplace.” He adds that the Eye of I “power trio” – Chris Hoffman on cello and Max Jaffe on drums – is particularly adept at this give and take: “The first time we played, things just lifted up right away. Everything that group does just feels fresh.”
Lewis’ melodic identity encompasses ancient and future, inside and outside, density and openness, church and street. He’s a master of the short infectious motif, and like Sonny Rollins, devotes long expanses of his improvisation to the stretching and refracting and mutating of short phrases. The son of a minister, Lewis grew up playing in church and hearing the titans of jazz at home, and then as he got older, encountering Buffalo artists like the free-jazz saxophonist Charles Gayle and the groove-minded saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. After moving to New York, Lewis pursued music in many different lanes, playing regularly with bassists William Parker and Jamaaladeen Tacuma from Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band, as well as trombone player Craig Harris and many others.
“James Brandon Lewis’ solos are like a jumbo jet,” enthuses Marc Ribot. “You need to give them plenty of runway space to take off and land. Because they’re huge, not just in terms of sound, chops, soul, ideas, energy, and originality, (although they have all these in abundance), but because they’re carrying a precious cargo: the living legacy of John Coltrane. I’m not talking about some skillful ‘young lion's’ reproduction of a historic jazz sound, but a young artist’s courage to take up the spiritual challenge—to channel what needs to be channeled now.”
One of the most disarmingly original tracks on the record is “The Blues Still Blossoms,” a song that thought it is oriented around the primordial flatted-third blues interval, it is more an incantation than a blues. As Lewis explains, he sought to avoid all traces of the blues as understood by academics. “I was thinking about miles of blue fields, that was the visual in my mind. I wanted a blues that sounded like it was floating and never ending. And also new, refreshing. The piece is built on word-like phrasing – I’m not thinking about time at all. It’s like a breathing walk, or a conversation. It’s blues after a hard day’s work -- it has nothing to do with form or hitting the right anything. It’s like “OK, so the work day of “time” is over: Now what do you want to say?”
EUROPEAN TOUR DATES
Oct 17 — Bucharest, RO @ Control Club
Oct 18 — Warsaw, PL @ Pardon To Tu
Oct 19 — Gliwice, PL @ Centrum Kultury Jazovia
Oct 20 — Oslo, NO @ Nasjonal Jazzscene, Victoria
Oct 21 – Copenhagen, DK @ Musik LOPPEN
Oct 23 — Cormons, IT @ Cormons Jazz & Wine Festival at Vila Vipolže
Oct 24 — Graz, AT @ Open Music @ Tube’s
Oct 25 – Cologne, DE @ Stadtgarten -Europäisches Zentrum für Jazz und Aktuelle Musik
Oct 28 — Rijkevorsel, BE @ De Singer
Oct 29 — Eindhoven, NL @ Muziekgebouw Eindhoven
Oct 30 — Nijmegen, NL @ LUX Nijmegen
Oct 31 — Amsterdam, NL @ Bimhuis