Best of Jazz Editors’ Picks Review

REVIEW: Jesup Wagon by James Brandon Lewis

“Jesup Wagon is filled with invigorating music that is well worth several listens.” — Jazz Artistry Now

James Brandon Lewis (courtesy artist)

Artist: James Brandon Lewis

Album: Jesup Wagon

Label: Tao Forms

Reviewed by Scott Yanow

 James Brandon Lewis is a young veteran, a tenor-saxophonist who is quite explorative, has a sound of his own, and is certainly not shy to stretch himself.

For his ninth release as a leader, Mr. Lewis put together the Red Lily Quintet for a musical appreciation of George Washington Carver (1864-1943). Carver, a pioneering African-American scientist, inventor, botanist, artist, ecologist and teacher in addition to being a proficient musician, was a role model and an inspiration for several generations of black Americans. Mr. Lewis and his quintet with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, bassist William Parker, cellist Chris Hoffman, and drummer Chad Taylor, does not attempt to emulate the music of Carver’s era so this tribute is both well-meaning and abstract.

Mr. Lewis opens with “Jesup Wagon” which is named after the Jesup Agricultural Wagon that Carver designed, taking along products and items from his laboratory to Alabama farmers so as to educate them about new and better ways to grow crops. The piece depicts a trip by Carver in his wagon, starting out with some thoughtful unaccompanied tenor and then building up as the other musicians enter. The music is well-constructed, conversational, and ultimately fiery.

Public Domain photograph of George Washington Carver (c. 1864 – January 5, 1943) restored by Adam Cuerden – Tuskegee University Archives/Museum

Lowlands Of Sorrow” can be thought of as portraying the dilemma of destitute farmers, including a musical prayer and some anguish. The ensembles are a little reminiscent of Albert Ayler although not quite as intense. “Arachis” begins as a mournful ballad, becomes quite passionate, and is filled with musical conversations including one between bassist Parker and drummer Taylor. “Fallen Flowers,” a tribute to nature, is rhythmically complex but not overly dense with improvised harmonies by the horns and a brief poem spoken by Mr. Lewis at its conclusion.

James Brandon Lewis (courtesy artist)

My favorite pieces are the three final ones. “Experiment Station” has prominent strings, excellent tenor and trumpet solos with thunderous accompaniment, and some inventive interaction by bass and drums. “Seer” is relatively mellow with a strong melody and a danceable bass line. The concluding “Chermurgy” is rhythmically exciting free bop with interaction by bass, cello and drums (with Taylor recalling Ed Blackwell a bit), and Mr. Lewis riffing behind Knuffke’s solo.

” Jesup Wagon is filled with invigorating music that is well worth several listens.”

 — Jazz Artistry Now

1. Jesup Wagon – 6:20

2. Lowlands Of Sorrow – 7:03

3. Arachis – 8:30

4. Fallen Flowers – 6:49

5. Experiment Station – 8:37

6. Seer – 3:59

7. Chemurgy – 9:53


James Brandon Lewis, tenor

Kirk Knuffke, cornet

William Parker, bass, gimbri

Chris Hoffman, cello

Chad Taylor, drums, mbira

“… well-constructed, conversational, and ultimately fiery.”

 — Jazz Artistry Now



Artists official website.

Artist’s music store online.

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Mr. Yanow

The Jazz Artistry Now review of Jesup Wagon was written by Scott Yanow. Mr. Yanow has written 11 books on jazz, over 800 liner notes, and more than 20,000 recording reviews through the years. His writing has graced virtually all of the top jazz magazines and he is happy to be a featured contributor to Jazz Artistry Now.