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Thursday, July 4, 2024

James Brandon Lewis Trio in Berlin, July 3, 2024

James Brandon Lewis Trio

By Paul Acquaro

I realize now that I had written the word 'punchy' quite often in my notes. It was "James Brandon Lewis' punchy melody" and "Josh Werner's punchy bass lines" and even "Chad Taylor's deft kick and punch of drums." How violent, how limited of a vocabulary, and how true. Every note, every musical idea that the trio played was delivered with striking intensity and precision.

The setting was a small, intimate gig at the opening of a two week tour that finds this tight trio playing at a few festivals and dates around northern Europe. Lewis picked up his horn and unceremoniously began show by easing into a rousing Coltrane-inflected melody. It was a short piece but like a spiritual incantation, it prepared the space. Along with the saxophonist's hearty, clear tone, Werner's animated bass lines and Taylor's strong but supportive dumming found a direct channel to what makes one's head bop.

As Lewis explained, the songs were being drawn from his recent (though not most recent) album, Eye of I, which gave us the moving interpretation of the Donny Hathaway tune 'Someday We'll All Be Free', as well as some soon-to-be released music. Judging by the funk-infused grooves, hook laden melodies and intense improvisations, the forthcoming album, Apple Cores, named after Amiri Baraka's column for Downbeat magazine, will be something to look forward to.

A concise solo piece from Lewis seemed to contain multitudes. During this brief detour, abstract melodic shards were juxtaposed with musical quotes. A Charlie Parker line here, the refrain from 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' and others that I knew but couldn't name. The set ended with a song that Lewis says he plans to play with all his collaborators, 'Sparrow', which appears on Eye of I as well as his other recent album For Mahalia. As Lewis began the evocative melody began in tandem with Werner, it became obvious why he would choose this one. Taylor, who had been waiting paitently, entered with a concentrated gust and helped lift the earnest song to a triumphant peak.

The taut, three piece exemplified a barebones aesthetic where every note, every coloration, every impulse counts. They played a single set, a bit over an hour, but it was an encounter whose reverberations are felt as much the next day as when in the moment of creation.