James Brandon Lewis Quartet: Transfiguration review – angular, explosive experimentation

(Intakt)
The New York-based sax player and co mix it up, from funk shuffle to full-on swing, on their blistering fourth album

American tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has one of the fiercest sounds in modern jazz. Hard-blowing and full of declarative melodies, he has released more than 10 records as a bandleader since his 2010 debut, Moments, channelling everything from meandering blues on 2014’s Divine Travels to ecstatic gospel on 2023’s For Mahalia, With Love and distorted punk improvisations with post-rock outfit the Messthetics on the same year’s Eye of I. Lewis’s quartet is typically an outlet for his more nimble compositions, producing harmonically complex backings for his heavy horn phrases. Their fourth album, Transfiguration, is no different, comprising eight tracks of angular yet explosive experimentation.

The opening title track sets the tone, interweaving Lewis’s expressive lines among pianist Aruán Ortiz’s polyrhythms before reaching a blistering sax solo. As the album progresses, there is variety amid the consistency of Lewis’s blasting tone: a funk shuffle on Swerve, Latin rhythm on Per 6, and fast-paced swing on Black Apollo. The compositions can often feel on the verge of breaking apart, producing the uneasy rubato of Trinity of Creative Self or the entropy of Empirical Perception. Yet for each moment where the listener struggles to hang on, there is a counterpoint of musical release: Lewis’s lively sax leads without fear on tracks such as Élan Vital, cementing his place as one of his generation’s foremost instrumentalists.

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