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Jazz Interview ‘That moment where everything feels fine and other-worldly’

JAMES BRANDON LEWIS talks to Chris Searle about the the state he's seeking on his new album Molecular

JAMES BRANDON LEWIS is an inventive and freedom-seeking tenor saxophonist, whose surging patterns of sound resonate all through the new album Molecular he’s cut with his quartet.

From an early age, he became interested in all the jazz greats: “Parker, Coltrane, Rollins and Ornette -— I love the whole continuum,” he tells me, “I loved the emotion they provoked.

“If  the music connects, then the genre doesn’t matter. I loved my hometown saxophone heroes Grover Washington and Charles Gayle and I gravitated to Joshua Redman as he was extremely popular. I was curious to know who he was checking out, which led me to Gene Ammons and countless others.”

He explored the freer regions of the music because “I needed to free my melodic line from harmony and allow it to let me know where it wanted to go. I’m in constant search of that elusive place, the gut feeling that nobody can explain but that we’re all trying to reach — that unique place, that moment where everything feels fine and other-worldly.”

His fellow quartet musicians all have a potent artistry. “Chad Taylor has a strong melodic sense on the drums. I hear melodies as he plays,” he says. “Bassist Brad Jones can play anything put in front of him with very, very soulful humanity in his deep bass lines.”

And Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz “gives me complete harmonic freedom, never guiding the harmony or where I should go. He and I are always conversing musically and his deep rhythmic sense pushes me. They are all unique to who they are.”

He’s called the album Molecular because “it relates to our search for the truest version of ourselves consistently, mapping out our natural tendency because it births originality.”

He has conceptually developed an approach to music that uses molecular biology and living organisms, and a love for all forms of life pulsates in his quartet’s every note throughout the album.

As the music levitates, it acts as a commentary on Maya Angelou’s words: “Up from a past that’s rooted in pain/I rise/I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide. Welling and swelling I bear in the tide/Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear/I rise.”

His post-pandemic plans, including touring and playing again in England, are in abeyance. “Everything is a wait and see,” he declares.

But he has fond memories of  playing with British musicians. “I’ve played with vibist Orphy Robinson, drummer Mark Sanders and bassist John Edwards. Overall they are amazing players and also great, great humans.

“Their legacies were made prior to me being on the planet. I am honoured to share the stage with them. I also dig Courtney Pine and have done since I was a kid.”

A tour will happen, I’m sure, when we will share his levitating music again.

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