April 12, 2019
James Brandon Lewis
An UnRuly Manifesto
Relative Pitch RPR 1078
John Dikeman/George Hadow/Dirk Serries/Martina Verhoeven/Luis Vicente
Raw Tonk Records RT 035
With identical instrumentation but differing conceptions, one American and one European ensemble have created programs of contemporary improvisation. Seemingly taking his cues from that period when the freedom expressed by Ornette Coleman’s initial Free Jazz breakthrough was adapted to fit the rhythmic thrust of Hard Bop is tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. To do so through additional musical textures, he’s expanded his regular trio of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III with the energy emanating from the trumpeter Jaimie Branch and guitarist Anthony Pirog. More attuned to the sort of understated pure improv that moderated the initial American model while building on it is the other CD. Here the cast includes British drummer George Hadow, Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente, guitarist Dirk Serries and bassist Martina Verhoeven from Belgium and Amsterdam-based American tenor and alto saxophonist John Dikeman.
Interspaced with four under-one-minute intermezzos that initially set the scene and later offer respite from the quintet’s sonic ferocity, An UnRuly Manifesto explodes on the title track with a power play reminiscent of one of the toughest Jazz Messengers LPs. At the same time Lewis’ post-Trane double-tonguing and irregularly vibrated split tones, Branch’s heraldic cries and Pirog’s chunky guitar riffs confirm these are early-21st, not mid-20th century sounds. Analogously, rather than following one path, the groups also shows its versatility by expressing itself on melancholy ballads like “Haden Is Beauty” and funk expositions such as “Sir Real Denard”. Appropriately, the former named for Charlie Haden, begins with toned-down, almost C&W paced double bass strumming.
Communicated through a broken octave head that combines a unison horn exposition that is juiced by fleet-fingered guitar lines, a Coleman group-like theme become the focus. “Sir Real Denard” also includes electric Coleman group reflections. With a title named for Coleman’s drummer son and bandleader, Crudup’s hip-hop drumming, Stewart’s thumb-popping accompaniment and Lewis’s cutting tone, the piece strides forward as the saxophonist dissects and reassembles the theme. Helped by Pirog’s rave-up string distortion the density abates with brassy trills from Branch. With other tracks pieced together with amoeba-like dribs and drabs of brief sound coloration and still others taken as a marriage between Fire Music and Acid-Rock, with psychedelic guitar twangs and flanges pressing up against saxophone snarls and dissected trumpet pitches, the group confirms it has few limitations. And this CD adds another notable chapter to the book of James Brandon Lewis.
Seemingly true to its pan-European origins, featuring timbral detours and skirmishes during which intonation and interaction evolve slowly, the quintet on Ideal Principle begins its program with intermittent silences, scurrying arthropod-like noises, distant percussive crashes, cunning spicccato string movements and low-pitches buzzes and strident peeps which could arise from brass or reeds. By the time the aptly named third track, “Motion” comes along however, the band hits its stride. Set up with Serries’ pinging string pops and neutral strumming, the exposition is soon studded with rooster-like crowing from Vicente, matched by irregular puffs from Dikeman. As the story telling becomes more chromatic, the saxophonist’s extended, irregularly vibrated timbres and the trumpeter’s trebly grace notes are contrapuntally challenged with slurred fingering from the guitarist and consistent pops from Hadow. Eventually expressive brass whistles from deep inside the body tube and agitated reed snarls hold on to the theme’s energy as Verhoeven’s bowed double bass strings to sound closure.
This intersectionality intensifies throughout the remainder of the disc as “Principle” concerns itself with polyphonic contrapuntal expression. Textures are lacerated and shredded through downwards saxophone blurts, intense guitar flanges and heavy- duty drumming, until thwacks from the bass underscore Vicente’s muted suggestions that attain a certain mellowness when mated with reed flutter tonguing. The pureed narrative climaxes in the final “Substance “, which adds more textures to create just that. With Hadow making the strongest impression with cymbal vibrations and drum plops in the background, foreground string buzzing from the guitar and double bass slide the improvisation to a solid conclusion.
Despite identical instrumentation no one would confuse either of these CDs with the other. Featuring strong contributions from these players, the only thing they have in common is high quality consistency in their messages.
Track Listing: UnRuly: 1. Year 59 Insurgent Imagination 2. An Unruly Manifesto 3. Pillar 1: A Joyful Acceptance 4. Sir Real Denard 5. The Eleventh Hour 6. ; Pillar 2: What is Harmony 7. Escape Nostalgic Prisons 8. Haden Is Beauty 9. Pillar 3: New Lived, Authority died
Personnel: UnRuly: Jaimie Branch (trumpet); James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone); Anthony Pirog (guitar); Luke Stewart (bass) and Warren Trae Crudup III (drums)
Track Listing: Ideal: 1. Ideal 2. Infinite 3. Motion 4. Principle 5. Substance
Personnel: Ideal: Luis Vicente (trumpet); John Dikeman (tenor and alto saxophones); Dirk Serries (guitar); Martina Verhoeven (bass) and George Hadow (drums)