Jesup Wagon

TAO Forms present this astonishing new work from the fertile creative mind of tenor saxophonist–composer James Brandon Lewis. Performed by the Red Lily Quintet, an exceptional & singular inter-generational ensemble, this album speaks to the forever-evolving continuum of the jazz tradition.

Voted Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist in the 2020 DownBeat Magazine International Critic’s Poll, James Brandon Lewis supercharges his remarkable evolution with Jesup Wagon, a brilliant and evocative appreciation of the life and legacy of turn-of-the-19th century African-American musician-painter-writer-scientist George Washington Carver.

If “revelation” is a word commonly used to describe master saxophonists like John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and Dewey Redman, then it fits easily in the horn of James Brandon Lewis, who is a keen student of those and many other elders. But while boundless energy characterizes his playing, it is also grounded by a deep sense of narrative, which is why he is attracted to histories, like Carver’s, or to theories like his own Molecular Systematic Music, used on his superb previous 2020 Intakt album, ‘Molecular’ – featured on World of Jazz 415, or to artistic genres such as surrealism, modeled by Lewis on the stunning ‘An UnRuly Manifesto’ from 2019.

Helping James get it all out on Jesup Wagon is the Red Lily Quintet, anchored by the tectonic rhythm section of bassist William Parker and drummer Chad Taylor, and rounded out by cornetist Kirk Knuffke and cellist Chris Hoffman. Parker, who James says “has looked out for me ever since I arrived in New York City,” is a genius of the stand-up bass who performed with grand-master Cecil Taylor for 11 years straight. He is also a renaissance man in his own right. Chad Taylor, “one of the most melodic drummers I’ve ever played with,” James says, is a Chicagoan who has gifted to New York some of the energy and drama the windy city is known for. Kirk Knuffke is one of New York’s rare cornet players, using that instrument’s impish tone to explosive effect on dozens of records by New York jazz heavies. Chris Hoffman made his bones playing Henry Threadgill’s demanding music in a few of the great alto saxophonist’s bands, and has worked with artists as diverse as Yoko Ono, Marc Ribot and Marianne Faithful.

Lewis also has an affinity for the spoken word, demonstrated on Jesup Wagon by a few timely placed short recitations. “Music is enough. But the older I get it’s important for me to have the listener hear my speaking voice,” he says. “Makes it more organic. I like to tell a story with an album.”

Poetry is just one of Lewis’ many obsessions, which also include painting, hip-hop and philosophy. “All of the people I admire have that kind of depth,” Lewis says. “William Parker, Oliver Lake, Yusef Lateef, all these amazing artists. George Washington Carver was a musician, a painter, a prolific writer, in addition to what most people know about him. Having a broad range just makes the cast iron skillet more seasoned.”

Jesup Wagon, essentially a collection of tone poems – or, as Duke Ellington might have called them, “tone parallels” – Duke being the instigator of this type of programmatic jazz. Poetry in music is what we get in this new masterpiece from James Brandon Lewis, who may well be crowned a master himself in the not-too-far future.

This album is featured on

  • World of Jazz 432
  • World of Jazz 440

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