CD review

James Brandon Lewis, Chad Taylor – “Live in Willisau”

James Brandon Lewis, Chad Taylor – Live in Willisau
(Intakt CD 342/2020. CD Review by Adam Sieff)

I first became aware of tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis through his 2014 major label debut Divine Travels (OKeh Records/Sony Music) which resonated deeply and felt like the emergence of a major new talent with a powerful, independent voice. Six years on and although he’s not yet achieved the profile his artistry deserves, he continues to make great music, such as Radiant Imprints, his debut with drummer Chad Taylor released in 2018, and last year’s quintet release Unruly Manifesto. Chad Taylor has form in the duo format and was co-founder of the Chicago Underground Duo with trumpeter Rob Mazurek. He’s been a mainstay on the improvised music scene performing with artists like Pharaoh Sanders, Marc Ribot and Fred Anderson and recently released the Chad Taylor Trio album The Daily Biological.

Live at Willisau marks the closing concert of the 45th Willisau Jazz Festival on 1 September 2019. It’s a festival that has a long tradition of featuring saxophone and drum duos, including Max Roach and Anthony Braxton, Max Roach (again) with Archie Shepp and Rashied Ali and Arthur Rhames. This album is the full 67-minute set played that night. The sound quality is fantastic, recorded by esteemed engineer/producer Martin Pearson for Swiss radio station SRF 2 Kultur. (If his name isn’t familiar, check the credits of some of Keith Jarrett’s finest work).

The proceedings start with two tributes to John Coltrane from Radiant Imprints. Twenty Four features a combination of Giant Steps and 26-2 while Radiance refers musically and emotionally to Seraphic Light. The playing is so tight; even in the freer moments they’re deep in each other’s pockets. Taylor’s drumming is just as musical as it is rhythmic, and the next piece, his composition Matape, features a fine solo section.

Next comes an extremely delicate reading of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday from Black, Brown and Beige, Taylor playing mbira (an instrument similar to a kalimba), while Lewis’ horn almost takes on the form of a viola. Imprints is next, another from their debut, here bursting with even more fire and energy, Lewis seemingly able to project any thought or emotion through his horn. Following that is an elegant reading of Mal Waldron’s Watakushi No Sekai followed by the mournful With Sorrow Lonnie from the debut with Taylor’s mbira supporting Lewis’ emotional playing.

Finally, the climax of the evening, a powerful version of Dewey Redman’s Willsee, which he performed with Ed Blackwell at the Willisau Festival in 1980. The audience erupts, Lewis sounds exhilarated letting out a huge “Yeah, Yeah’… Wow!”, which just makes the audience go wilder still – it’s a lovely moment. Finally the encore Under/Over The Rainbow and its familiar Harold Arlen melody rounds the evening off. What a show – I really wish I’d been there.

LINKS: James Brandon Lewis website
Live in Willisau on BandCamp

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