James Brandon Lewis | Code of Being Review
by Icrom Bigrad
James Brandon Lewis has captured many jazz fans’ attention with his critically acclaimed saxophone playing and genre-bending compositions. He has received accolades from NPR, ASCAP Foundation, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Lewis was recently voted Rising Star-Tenor Saxophonist by Downbeat Magazine’s 2020 Critic’s Poll. The ever-striving Lewis leads numerous ensembles and is the Co-Founder of the award-winning poetry and music ensemble Heroes Are Gang Leaders. The young saxophonist attended Howard University and received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. He is now submitting his sophomore release Code of Being, via Intakt Records. This album continues in the style of his debut album, Molecular, which Lewis recorded with his quartet in 2020 just a few months before Lockdown, was roundly acclaimed as one of the most exciting releases in 2020 (Intakt CD 350). Joining Lewis is Aruán Ortiz, piano; Brad Jones, bass; and Chad Taylor, drums.
“Resonance” is the opening song, and it finds Lewis performing in his usual natural and unacademic manner. His solo is aggressive, rhythmic, and fluid. The ensemble is interactive and focuses on listening to each other for inspiration and direction. Lewis is known for his individual style while maintaining a historical lineage in his ideas and rhythmic phrasing. Taylor’s drumming is exceptionally colorful as he keeps the time and spurs the music to new heights.
“Every Atom Glows” is inspired by and named after the eponymous 1951 painting by Norman Lewis. Here the quartet plays with space as much as sonic textures. Taylor is again spontaneous, colorful, and interactive. Lewis builds a compelling solo as he converses with Oritz’s piano sounds. Taylor and Jones anchor the selection as Ortiz and Lewis explore the various harmonic glows and flows of textures.
James Brandon Lewis continues to build his expansive catalog of works with Code of Being. Lewis can balance off-kilter playing with a declaration of the jazz that has come before him. This gives him a voice of strength, knowledge, and a forward-thinking approach. Code of Being is a well-articulated take on today’s jazz, from an up-and-coming jazz artist with an exciting and unique approach.