Review: James Brandon Lewis Stuns at the Cell Theatre

The James Brandon Lewis Trio had a performance for the ages last night at the Cell Theatre. Drawing from their new, aptly-titled record, No Filter, released on BNS Records in October, the band played a set of superb original works. Lewis, who in recent years has been steadily establishing himself as one of the most promising talents on the New York scene, displayed his courage and vision as both a saxophonist and a composer. From the opening seconds and through all six pieces, Lewis kept a deep, soulful fire burning like his life depended on it.

Lewis’ rhythm section is comprised of two D.C.-based players, electric bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren “Trae” Crudup III who provided a rare buoyancy for Lewis’ simmering tone. Stewart created complex layers of dark energy on which Crudup drove the rhythms at blinding speed, all while Lewis maintained an intensity on saxophone rarely seen today. On this night, the band also featured guitarist Anthony Pirog, who seemed the perfect addition with pensive, slicing guitar lines that worked off all three players. Most of the pieces were forward-moving statements, though they closed with a more somber ballad, “Bittersweet.”

The James Brandon Lewis Trio is wholly unique on the New York scene today, forging its own type of energy music based on rhythmic dynamism, edgy yet soulful melodies, and a creative intensity that never lets up.

The concert was the first of a new series at the Cell Theatre, this one a triple bill that included two other excellent performances by Rob Reddy’s commission Bechet: Our Contemporary and the legendary electric guitar trio Harriet Tubman.

–Cisco Bradley, January 12, 2017

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