On his 2016 album, No Filter, Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis dug deep into the possibilities of the Jazz trio. With heavy Funk-Rock excursions, Hip Hop infusions and fiery free music, the album’s compositions were densely textured and impeccably performed. Expanding to a quintet with Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Luke Stewart (bass), Anthony Pirog (guitar) and Warren “Trae” Crudup (drums) for his latest project, An Unruly Manifesto finds Lewis throwing down the gauntlet and establishing himself as one of the most imaginative composers and players in music today.
“Year 59: Insurgent Imagination” opens the album up with a short and somber yet resilient brass fanfare. The title track emerges with Stewart vamping on bass, Pirog’s guitar and drummer Warren Trae Crudup’s soft, impermanent snare providing a subtle back beat. Branch’s trumpet solo is bright, patient and exploratory. Throughout the song’s eleven-minute running time, the band whips itself into ever-increasing heights of intensity with Lewis leading the way with a tone that is deep and full of history.
“A Joyful Acceptance” picks up where the album opener left off, a short mellow burst of joy in instrumental form. “Sir Real Denard” is a heavy, yet abstract rocker that coasts on top of a muscular 6/8 groove. Stewart and Pilog’s soloing are particularly brilliant here with rapid fire fretwork that at times will explode and lead way to full-on noise. “The Eleventh Hour” is another example of Lewis’ rich and regal compositional style. Centered around Pirog’s nimble triplet guitar passage, the piece builds steadily over the course of nine minutes with Lewis delivering a fiery free solo toward the tune’s conclusion.
“Haden is Beauty” comes out the gate with a deeply melodic solo from Stewart. The tune’s swelling Brass melody seems to exist somewhere within the tension between “free” and “straight ahead” Jazz. Composed in part as a tribute to Charlie Haden, An Unruly Manifesto touches similar heights of passion, joy and experimentation that the famed bassist put into his work. As fresh as it is reverent of the tradition, this is new music that has brought the ancestors along with it.