James Brandon Lewis

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The 52nd episode of the Burning Ambulance podcast features an interview with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, and is sponsored by Harry’s men’s grooming products. If you’re listening to this, you can get a Harry’s trial set at harrys.com/burning. You’ll get a weighted ergonomic handle for a firm grip; a five blade razor with a lubricating strip and trimmer blade; rich lathering shave gel with aloe to keep your skin hydrated; and a travel blade cover to keep your razor dry and easy to grab on the go. Go to harrys.com/burning to start shaving better today!

James Brandon Lewis is from Buffalo, New York, a city which has produced a surprising number of musicians whose work I listen to a lot, including Grover Washington, Jr., Charles Gayle, Rick James, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Morton Feldman, and Cannibal Corpse. I’ve seen Lewis perform live twice, both times with the avant-garde rock trio Harriet Tubman. One time was a straight double bill – James’s trio with bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup, plus guitarist Anthony Pirog, opened for Tubman. Then, at Winter Jazzfest in 2018, Tubman put together an expanded group to perform a re-interpretation of Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz. That night, the lineup was Tubman – Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass, JT Lewis on drums – plus James’s trio, plus Jaimie Branch on trumpet and Darius Jones on alto sax. It was really fantastic, one of those things that you only get to see once in your life. You’re either in the room when the magic happens, or you get to hear people tell stories about it for years afterward.

James made two records for the OKeh label – Divine Travels, which had William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, plus poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, who runs Heroes Are Gang Leaders with him, and then Days of FreeMan, which had Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. By the way, if you’re new to this podcast, a lot of the people I’ve mentioned so far – Melvin Gibbs, William Parker, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma – have all been on in the past. Anyway, James followed Days of FreeMan with No Filter, which featured his live trio plus Pirog, and then he made Radiant Imprints, a duo album with drummer Chad Taylor, and An UnRuly Manifesto, with the trio plus Pirog and Jaimie Branch. And every one of those records is absolutely worth your time, so check ’em out.

This conversation with James Brandon Lewis is the longest thing I’ve ever recorded for this podcast, and it went in a whole bunch of directions I wasn’t expecting. I wrote down about two pages of questions, and I think I asked three of them. You’ll hear what I mean – he has a lot to say on a variety of issues. This might be the most in-depth interview he’s ever done, and I hope you’ll find it as fascinating as I did.

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Music heard in this episode:

Heroes Are Gang Leaders, “Hurt Cult” (Artificial Happiness Button)

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor, “Under/Over the Rainbow” (Live in Willisau)