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'Divine Travels' uses free jazz to take listeners on a spiritual journey.

Music Review: James Brandon Lewis – ‘Divine Travels’

In an interview with, lauded young saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, after quoting an Albert Ayler statement about music as a “healing force,” asserts that his own “sound and approach are based in emotion and spirituality, having grown up in church, and not just being influenced by the music but observing the affects the music had on the people.” While Moments, his 2010 debut album as leader has tracks that illustrate this spiritual agenda, Divine Travels, his new album, is all about the exploration of music as a transcendent force.

divine-travels-100x100Working with bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, with a couple of contributions from poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, Lewis puts together a free jazz set cutely bookended by the titular “Divine” and “Travels.” Where his earlier album was an eclectic generic mix, Divine Travels develops its mystical journey through the almost otherworldly vibe often captured by free jazz. Spice it with a bit of gospel here and there, and you’ve got the recipe for an intensely soulful experience.

The highlight of the album is “Wading Child in the Motherless Water,” a brilliant rhapsody on “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Wade in the Water.” Lewis’s inventive mash-up invests the familiar melodies with a new life, and is easily the most accessible track on the disc.

Although Lewis takes the spotlight on all of the tracks, Cleaver and Parker deliver the kind of strong foundational support you would expect from such experienced artists, and when they get a chance to show their chops, they shine. Examples include Parker’s bass work on “Enclosed” and Cleaver’s on “Tradition.” In addition, when they work together on a piece like “A Gathering of Souls,” the ensemble is dynamic. Ellis collaborates with readings on “The Preacher’s Baptist Beat” and “Organized Minorities.”

Although free jazz may not always appeal to a popular audience, an album like Divine Travels offers the kind of musical journey that might well get that mainstream audience to change its mind. Indeed, if it doesn’t, I don’t know what will.

Divine Travels is available for pre-order via the official James Brandon Lewis website and will be released on February 4, 2014.

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