JAMES BRANDON LEWIS TRIO – No Filter (BNS Sessions): Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis started his career heavily steeped in avant-garde, so much so that he recruited avant-garde godfather William Parker to play bass on his 2014 release Divine Travels. But Lewis traded in the artsy, sporadic meandering for a more focused and rhythm-centric sound, absorbing hip-hop records like he was studying for a final exam, which culminated in Days of FreeMan, a more accessible, groovier, and tighter production—where Divine Travels featured ten tracks with half spilling over the seven-minute mark, Days of Freeman had nearly twice as many songs hanging around a standard four minutes (with the exception of a few ‘breaks’ that sound like jam sessions that could have been developed into full-lengths). The six-track No Filter, then, is the perfect coalescing of the two styles; hitting the ground with a head-nodding beat before sliding into improv.
For this album, Lewis recruited bassist Luke Stewart (who has a background in indie rock as the bassist for DC-based Laughing Man) and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III. Stewart and Crudup are adept at boosting Lewis’s post-Coltrane sax, creating an atmosphere that allows Lewis to fall back when needed without ever being overshadowed. Take “Y’all Slept,” maybe Lewis’s best composition in his repertoire, where Crudup drops a quick and light rat-a-tat rhythm and guest Anthony Pirog’s guitar creates an ascending riff of background noise that allows Lewis to tiptoe around the different pieces. On “Raise Up Off Me,” the spiritual hip-hop cousin to the pure avant-garde “Desensitized” from his debut, and presumably named after the great Hampton Hawes memoir, Lewis’s saxophone stutters before it spills on itself, Stewart and Crudup underneath him churning out an assembly line march. Each composition starts with a groove Questlove and crew would like to cop, and collectively the trio stretches out, creates a cacophony, and break down like the crumbling of audio quality at slowed speeds before regrouping on a single, unexpected turn, climaxing and collapsing back into the first established rhythm.
Although Lewis has always been a competent and confident bandleader (and you should be if you’ve got the gall to recruit Parker for your second album), but he must have found a more complete comfort than he has ever felt before, or has a more intimate connection with his new bandmates, or is rapidly developing his skills as a songwriter and performer, because this is his most self-assured, natural, and impressive set. As of now it’s only available digitally, so pray for a physical release soon. A MINUS