How can one define fusion? This process, residing somewhere between a spiraling ball of chaos and a synergistic love affair shared between spirit and rhythm, has led to some of the greatest compositions, collaborations and debates in the field. Think Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and George Benson to name a few. It is difficult to define the nuances of this elusive concept. A hot button topic among jazz aficionados and musicians the world over, fusion has been pitted against “traditional” approaches to the craft among those who do not accept the folding in of other genres into the jazz canon.
Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, who refers to himself as a creative musician, successfully unhinges the stifling constrictions of genre on his debut album Moments and emerges with a sound that is both unique and expansive. Lewis, a native of Buffalo, NY, assembles Neil Kogan (guitar), Ben Shepherd (bass), Robert Holliday (piano), John Shebalin (drums and percussion) and Susan Allen (harp) on an album that bucks the traditionalists by bringing the richness of funk, gospel, r&b, and soul music into a project rooted in hard bop.
The album opens with “Reflection.” Shepherd creeps in on bass, almost as if cracking open Pandora’s Box. Then, listeners are greeted by a crescendo of cacophonous sounds from the rest of the group. The song progresses almost as a request to the ancestors to commence.
In the ensemble’s rendition of “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me,” Lewis and Shepherd conceive a prolific new take on a gospel classic.
The project’s tone shifts in the next composition. Listeners experience the love and affection a parent feels for a child in “Leilani.” The piece resembles a lullaby- tender and soothing. The title comes from a Hawaiian word which means royal child of heaven and features stand out performances from Lewis and Kogan. The two, working in concert, create a composition that seems to effortlessly dance with rhythm and light.
Listeners move from the church pew to the streets and country side of South Africa on the track “I Remember South Africa.” Laced with African rhythms from Shebalin on congas and another meditative solo from Lewis, the listeners gain entry into a narrative that reveals the saxophonist’s personal thoughts on complexity and beauty of this country.
The final song on the album is “Pressing On.” An energetic, fast-paced piece that draws on elements of funk and rock, the piece would be a perfect addition of a car chase in an action movie with its thumping rhythms and pulsating beat.
Quite possibly, fusion is the intentional or improvisational practice of blending elements-rendering them virtually indiscernible. Fusion could be described as the assimilation or amalgamation of disparate pieces into a whole new thing or idea. A journey to understanding the nuances of fusion may take you to the fields of nuclear physics, anthropology, politics or even dance choreography. One could, however, take a short cut and pick up Moments an experience reach and depth of what a fusion project has to offer contemporary jazz lovers.
Visit James Brandon Lewis online at http://www.jblewis.com
Words by Ebony Noelle Golden