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James Brandon Lewis Quartet: Transfiguration – Jazz’s exhilarating saxophonist of the moment

Album features acclaimed working group of Brad Jones on bass, Chad Taylor on drums and Aruán Ortiz on piano

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Artist: James Brandon Lewis Quartet
Genre: jazz
Label: Intakt Records

James Brandon Lewis is the jazz saxophonist of the moment – albeit one who has taken 12 years and a dozen albums as leader to arrive (picking up DownBeat’s Rising Star tenor saxophonist award and twice topping the estimable Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll along the way), and that is highly likely to continue long into the compelling career of the 40-year-old New York-based improviser and composer.

As he says of his “molecular systematic music”, a highly original method that “braids together the fundamentals of music with molecular biology”, “it’s a life’s work”.

Lewis’s previous albums have embraced blues, gospel, spoken word, free jazz and even the experimental jazz-punk trio The Messthetics. (A joint album is released on Impulse! Records next month.) Transfiguration features his agile and acclaimed regular working group of Brad Jones on bass, Chad Taylor on drums and the Cuban-born Aruán Ortiz on piano.

Lewis’s tone is commanding and his soloing is searching and propulsive; comparisons to John Coltrane, especially during the latter stages of his 1960s quartet, and particularly on a track such as Per 6, are occasionally hard to avoid.


If, at times, you can also hear the boundless thematic invention of a Sonny Rollins and the fire and freedom of an Albert Ayler, as well as the more soulful side of a JD Allen, then all well and good. But know this too: James Brandon Lewis is very much his own man. And he is one of the most exhilarating forces in modern jazz.

Philip Watson

Philip Watson

Philip Watson is a freelance journalist and author. He writes about jazz for The Irish Times