With musical impulses directed towards both exploratory improvisation and the modern mainstream, tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis seems destined to be one of jazz’s defining musicians during the next decade. On Molecular, the Buffalo-born saxophonist’s 11 originals work within the standard quartet configuration of piano (Aruán Ortiz), bass (Brad Jones) and the percussion of his longtime associate Chad Taylor, following the double helix concept expressed in varied rhythms and harmonies.
More esoteric in theory than practice, frequent walking bass lines and drum backbeat keep the tunes ambulatory and chromatic, while only on one tune does a tinge of Ortiz’s Cuban background affect his comping. What’s more, Lewis’ reed excursions usually remain as flutter tongued sheets of sound. with smears and vibrations extending the melodies. Though many tunes flourish with a steady groove and recapped heads, the composer also displays his command of atmospheric and mercurial writing. In fact, An Anguish Departed is the most outside track, with Ortiz kinetically smashing bottom-pitched notes while swirling elevated tones, Jones projecting isolated buzzes, Taylor popping rebounds with Lewis shrieking split tones ricocheting from doits to scoops with plenty of echoes. More restrained in development, Helix also stands out since its powerful theme stretches far enough to allow for defining solo breaks from each quartet member.
Swinging, sensible and stropping, Molecular is one definition of high-quality contemporary jazz, showcasing a quartet of players whose careers should be followed from now on.