All About JAZZ
JAMES BRANDON LEWIS,
Published: March 24, 2012
Meet James Brandon Lewis:
Saxophonist/composer James Brandon Lewis was exposed to jazz, gospel, and R&B and at an early age began his journey into the realm of music. He attended Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts located in Buffalo NY. Upon graduating, James would continue his musical pursuit At Howard University, where he was blessed to have played with some of the finest musicians in the world, including Benny Golson, Geri Allen, Wallace Roney, Bill Pierce, and many others.
James has toured Japan with the Howard University Jazz Ensemble Performing Concerts to raise money for the tsunami victims. .James also played at the Kennedy Center Honors with the Howard University Jazz Ensemble, backing John Legend, k.d. lang, and Vanessa Williams . James Holds a B.M. from Howard University, a Master of Fine Arts degree from California Institute of the Arts. James is an alumnus of the Banff Jazz Residency in Canada where he studied with Joshua Redman, Dave Douglas, Tony Malaby, Don Byron, and Hank Roberts. He has also been a featured artist on The Word Network, which boast about 30 million viewers.
James was selected by pianist Matthew Shipp to participate in the Atlantic Center for the Arts 141st residency. James released his debut CD, Moments, in 2010 and is currently working on his second Album Divine Travels, featuring William Parker, Gerald Cleaver and poet Thomas Sayers Ellis.
Teachers and/or influences?
Wadada Leo Smith, John Lindberg, Matthew Shipp, Charlie Haden, Alphonso Johnson, Charlie Young, Fred Irby, Carol McLaughlin, Famoudou Don Moye, Paul Novros, David Roitstein and so many others
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I realized that music touched my emotional center as a kid, and then the discovery of the many greats of the past.
Your sound and approach to music:
"Music is the healing force" (Albert Ayler). I believe that to be true . My sound and approach are based in emotion and spirituality, having grown up in church, and not just being influenced by the music but observing the affects the music had on the people .
I am always pushing to play my experience, and speak that which I know of myself .
Your teaching approach:
Learn the fundamentals and the rest is up to you to discover, and enjoy.
Your dream band:
William Parker, Gerald Cleaver, and of course bands with my close friends.
Any venue that allows me to express who I am.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
The first jazz album I bought was: 1949 Concert & All Stars 1950 1951, by Charlie Parker.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
My sound and translating my emotion to music. There are other things in the works that I am developing.
CDs you are listening to now:
Ornette Coleman, The Complete Science Fiction Sessions(Legacy).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
That word is very interesting, "jazz," but things are progressing.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Allowing people to play their experience.
What is in the near future?
Recording more and touring with trios with William Parker, Gerald Cleaver, Joanna Malfatti and Eric Klerks. Also a woodwind trio I am in with Maryclare Brzytwa and Kevin Robinson.
I am constantly in search of beauty and the meaning behind the notes, and am driven to play my own experience.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
How can one define fusion? This process, residing somewhere between a spiraling ball of chaos and a synergistic love affair shared between spirit and rhythm, has led to some of the greatest compositions, collaborations and debates in the field. Think Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and George Benson to name a few. It is difficult to define the nuances of this elusive concept. A hot button topic among jazz aficionados and musicians the world over, fusion has been pitted against “traditional” approaches to the craft among those who do not accept the folding in of other genres into the jazz canon.
Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, who refers to himself as a creative musician, successfully unhinges the stifling constrictions of genre on his debut album Moments and emerges with a sound that is both unique and expansive. Lewis, a native of Buffalo, NY, assembles Neil Kogan (guitar), Ben Shepherd (bass), Robert Holliday (piano), John Shebalin (drums and percussion) and Susan Allen (harp) on an album that bucks the traditionalists by bringing the richness of funk, gospel, r&b, and soul music into a project rooted in hard bop.
The album opens with “Reflection.” Shepherd creeps in on bass, almost as if cracking open Pandora’s Box. Then, listeners are greeted by a crescendo of cacophonous sounds from the rest of the group. The song progresses almost as a request to the ancestors to commence.
In the ensemble’s rendition of “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me,” Lewis and Shepherd conceive a prolific new take on a gospel classic.
The project’s tone shifts in the next composition. Listeners experience the love and affection a parent feels for a child in “Leilani.” The piece resembles a lullaby- tender and soothing. The title comes from a Hawaiian word which means royal child of heaven and features stand out performances from Lewis and Kogan. The two, working in concert, create a composition that seems to effortlessly dance with rhythm and light.
Listeners move from the church pew to the streets and country side of South Africa on the track “I Remember South Africa.” Laced with African rhythms from Shebalin on congas and another meditative solo from Lewis, the listeners gain entry into a narrative that reveals the saxophonist’s personal thoughts on complexity and beauty of this country.
The final song on the album is “Pressing On.” An energetic, fast-paced piece that draws on elements of funk and rock, the piece would be a perfect addition of a car chase in an action movie with its thumping rhythms and pulsating beat.
Quite possibly, fusion is the intentional or improvisational practice of blending elements-rendering them virtually indiscernible. Fusion could be described as the assimilation or amalgamation of disparate pieces into a whole new thing or idea. A journey to understanding the nuances of fusion may take you to the fields of nuclear physics, anthropology, politics or even dance choreography. One could, however, take a short cut and pick up Moments an experience reach and depth of what a fusion project has to offer contemporary jazz lovers.
Visit James Brandon Lewis online at http://www.jblewis.com
Words by Ebony Noelle Golden
Review By John Vincent Barron for JazzReview.com
“Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis presents a set of diverse jazz sounds on his debut recording Moments, recorded in Valencia, California where Lewis is a graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts. Featuring a first-rate young band, Lewis is able to showcase his huge, breathy tone on the tenor sax with lively compositions, ranging from hard-driving swing to full-out funk.
Lewis and company demonstrate open-ended group interplay on “Cinto,” a bombastic, free-form meets urban groove piece. Here pianist Robert Holliday and drummer John Shebalin play with an edginess that spurs Lewis to deliver an inspired solo. In sharp contrast to “Cinto”, the tune “Moments,” featuring the electric keyboard work of Morgan Fitch, is a straight-up funker with commercial sensibilities.
One highlight of the disc comes with the addition of saxophonist Kevin Robinson, trumpeter Brandon Sherman and percussionists Aaron Chavez and Nate Coyne on “I Remember South Africa.” The enhanced instrumentation adds a distinct dimension to Lewis’ musical conception. Another shining moment of the recording is an improvised live duet between Lewis and harpist Susan Allen, recorded live at Roy O Disney Music Hall.
With a debut as strong as Moments, Lewis certainly has the potential to be a strong, innovative voice in jazz.”