Photo Credit : Thomas Sayers Ellis

James Brandon Lewis – Exclusive GIGsoup Interview

Tenor saxophonist/composer James Brandon Lewis brings jazz fusion artistry to life in his latest effort, ‘No Filter.’ Along with his trio (bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup), its a hip-hop and jazz conglomerate, all its own. It has received critical acclaim from jazz and non-jazz media outlets. Primarily, for its innovative take on the jazz trio outfit, and its possibilities.

He kindly gave GIGsoup an exclusive interview about his new album, music inspirations and future endeavors.

James Brandon Lewis gives us a candid interview here:

What made you initially get into music, particularly with jazz?

The emotional content of music really drew me in at a very young age. [This came] from movies to the balance of emotion and intellect by the great saxophonist John Coltrane. My parents have always been supportive of me, and introduced me to all kinds of music. My mom [also] had a strong interest in jazz.

Did you envision something specific for this LP?

I really wanted to capture the sound of my working Trio. [I wanted] a very raw and gritty sound, [like] punk rock meets hip-hop. I did not want to make a big deal about making a record. I just wanted to make it happen in the moment, [to] capture [the] sheer energy, rawness of the moment, without any boxes or constraints on musical curiosity. This album is filled with energy, and [it] hits you in the face.

Were there concepts or themes you wanted to convey in ‘No Filter’ vs. your previous LPs?

I wanted to capture the rawness of hip-hop, free jazz and rock, giving it an extremely high energy vibe. I want this record to be felt from beginning through out, and then [be] left with beauty from the last track ‘Bittersweet.’

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What sparked your interest in bridging together different genres, particularly with hip-hop and jazz?

I love the many ways notes can paint on or off [a] canvas. Really, there so many ways you can arrange 12 notes. When you view things as connecting, as oppose to separate, it brings [together] a better understanding of how you can build, because you see from a wider lens.

How did you guys get together for this trio? Can you describe to me the dynamic working with Stewart and Crudup?

Let me start of by saying musically, I love working with these guys. They play with so much passion and honesty. We have been playing together [for] a little over 2 1/2 years, and it has been a joy. I met Luke Stewart in NYC at a gig around 2012-13, and loved his playing. From there, I met Warren Trae Crudup through him. Their musical taste[s] are wide open, which can lead us anywhere on the bandstand. It has been so much fun, and I look forward to [working with them] more. 

Your album features other artists as well, how did that add to the dynamic and production?

It was beautiful. I wanted to feature people I truly respect. Anthony Pirog, a beautiful guitar player, adds another layer of melodies [to our music]. P.SO The Earth Tone King and I grew up in Buffalo. I reunited with him in NYC, and [he is] an amazing MC. Vocalist Nicholas Ryan Grant and I went to Howard University. [He is] an amazing vocalist. His scatting and singing of the melody takes the music to an amazing height of sheer beauty and humanity.

Who were you guys inspired by, or had in mind in making ‘No Filter’? Anyone in particular?

We [are] influenced of course by all the jazz greats, as well as A Tribe Called Quest, Leader of the New School, Soulive, The Roots, Jimi Hendrix etc.

Describe to me, if you can, behind the scenes of your recording session.

Shout out to Strange Weather Studios in New York, and recording engineer Daniel Schlett. The vibe [in the studio] was like a live concert, with everybody in one room. All smiles, but [all] focused. We had one goal in mind, [and that was to create] high energy and [to] make it count. With any album or live playing situation, I always say to myself if this is the last time, make it count.

How many takes were there for each track?

Each track was done in two takes at most.

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Would you describe your recording as more spontaneous vs. methodical?

With the album title in mind ‘No Filter,’ this recording session compared to others was very spontaneous. There was a general game plan, and a talking of ideas. But, for the most part [was] very raw and everything was very open-ended.

Did you guys experience any a-ha, or surprising musical moments?

Every time we play is the a-ha moment because the road is open and free, and we are ready for a journey wherever the music leads us.

Is there a meaning behind the LP’s title, and title track ‘No Filter’?

No filter = never putting restrictions or [a] cap on your curiosity. [It means] raw and gritty, without preparation. Natural like hair, free like a style with no apologies. Freedom without acceptance.

What has been the positive reaction for your LP since its release?

Much love to my label BNS Sessions for supporting such a fine album, and believing in the music. They have been extremely supportive. The reaction has been great, lots of great vibes from fans, family and friends of the music. As well as great reviews, but of course we hope the music reaches [to] even more people.

Can you possibly describe jazz fusion and hip-hop’s state in this era?

It’s a generation tapping into its subconscious, drawing from [the] sounds of their yesteryear, which makes it not a trend, but the sound of a generation. 

Do you have any advice for young musicians wanting to get into jazz or other genres?

Every time you play, create etc., make it count. Playing with the intention that every time you play it, [it] could very well be the last time. So, how do you want to be remembered[?]  In regards to learning jazz or other genres, learn the basics and then fly.

Moving ahead, [I am] working on my next album, which is influenced by the great classical composer Antonín Dvořák