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The Messthetics And James Brandon Lewis – review

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    Posted: 27 May 2024 at 6:21am
The Messthetics And James Brandon Lewis

Impulse! Records 

THE MESSTHETICS - The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis cover

Out now


The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis release their first album together on jazz cornerstone label Impulse! Records. Is this unique, innovative and genre-defining collaboration the dawn of something entirely new?

Way back in 1961, the distinctive orange spine of an Impulse! record first met the hungry eyes of contemporary jazz fans. It was a rather ingenious brand ID designed to draw attention to their catalogue when their records were shelved.

Over the following years, Impulse! gained a reputation for the avantgarde on one hand, hosting artists like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, alongside more accessible releases by Gil Evans, Chico Hamilton and Oliver Nelson.

I think it’s fair to say that it is the more wilful elements of the catalogue for which the label is mostly remembered today.

How can you top A Love Supreme, Journey in Satchidananda or Karma, after all?

Well; it turns out you do that by releasing an album created by half of hardcore superstars Fugazi, their pal who can really play progressive guitar, and an amazing contemporary saxophonist. As random as that sounds, it results in a release that is wholly unique, intricate, and tonally beautiful.

And it feels like Impulse! is the perfect home for them because of it. 

Joe Lally played bass and Brendan Canty played drums in Fugazi. That lineage is clear in what The Messthetics do; Lally’s bass wanders, rolls and bounces between, over and under the awkward timings and skiffling beats of Canty’s drums, just like it has always meant to be.

Add to that mix Pirog’s chiming, intricate and accomplished guitar playing, and the result is a perennially engaging instrumental band that doesn’t allow you the grace to miss the vocals, lyrics, squawks or shrieks that you might reasonably expect to accompany them.

Those three players are enough – a trio of brilliance.

Until you have the insanely good idea to invite James Brandon Lewis to join your punky funky jazzy jam, on smokin’ sax.

His horned layer on top of The Messthetics backing feels instinctive, wholly original and totally awesome. It works beautifully on laid back tracks like Boatly, the smooth glide that ends side one – and there’s plenty of that slippery syrup to bathe in, but it is when it squalls over the faster-paced punking riffage of Emergence, or honks atop the growling funk of That Thang, when it makes the entire band really soar.

That’s when they become something even more unique – indefinable – with clear influences and experience coalescing magically into something that sounds really NEW.

This could be the start of something fresh that we haven’t heard before – jazz punk (j-unk, anyone?) – it feels like a Big Bang in its surprise, yet it has that whole flabbergasting “I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before” nature to it, that belies its fate as an invigorating success.

For too long, sax in rock music has meant either a ska bounce or a soulfully smooth smooch. Both instances can be a bit cringey to my ears, but here, James Brandon Lewis’ saxophone vocalises and cascades over the solid punky rocky funky jazzy backing of Messthetics like something I’ve never heard before; it’s exciting.

It’s fresh – and there’s not a skank or a frenchie in sight, thankfully.

The record itself is, typically of Impulse!, a beautiful thing. It has all the heritage and lustre of the House of ‘Trane with that enviable orange spine. The photography and graphics are cohesive with the catalogue style, and the gatefold packaging creates a nostalgic and brand-aware aesthetic with a modern twist that, once again, makes it feel really new.

Notice a theme occurring?

The vinyl pressing is lovely; weighty wax, clean mastering and well-balanced sides. While Side One packs a bit more of a punch, Side Two is slightly more laid back and ensures an addictive flow to the whole piece. It’s really easy to flip it over and start again. The recording is powerful when it needs to be and spacious and free when it tones down.

With The Messthetics And James Brandon Lewis, it feels like Impulse! has delivered the Africa/brass of this incarnation of the label – the one that gets the ball rolling – the new dawn. I can’t wait to see what we’ve got coming to us now that the unique mash-up of punk and jazz has proven to be so compelling and exciting with this LP.

The sun’s rising on a new world of instrumental wonder. I wonder what the new Love Supreme will be?

Follow the The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis: Facebook and website

from https://louderthanwar.com 

Edited by snobb - 27 May 2024 at 6:22am
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