The third album by tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis explores the hip-hop period of the late 80s/early 90s when bands like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, or Pete Rock & CL Smooth were big. What he tries here is to emulate the style and technique of the rappers of that time and translate it into his own voice on the sax.
The title of the album refers to Freeman Street in Buffalo, NY where he grew up and actually, a lot of the songs in the first chapter called “Buffalo Braves” (named after a basketball team) have that raw, rough and intense energy those bands were having when they used various samples from 70s Soul/Funk/Jazz tracks except that here, there are no samples or imitations. James’ tenor lines come across as a rhyming hip-hop artist in “Brother 1976” or the title track which also has rapper Supernatural as a guest artist. A very important part of this project are the two other players involved here: bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma who used to play in Ornette Coleman‘s Prime Time, and drummer Rudy Royston. Both of them have exhaled a lot of those hip-hop records as well it seems, especially evident in “Black Ark”.
James is adding his grandmother Pearl to the project as narrator and vocalist on four short breaks here and is also the source of “Bird Of Folk Cries” because bird was her nickname as a high school student. That particular song is one of the most open and explorative cuts on offer with the sax mostly crying and shouting out with amazing drum work by Royston. James’ tone and expression has this certain clarity but is audacious at the same time. He even goes the rock route on “Lament For JLew” (mentioning the Run D.M.C./Aerosmith collaboration as inspiration) but it’s the short one-minute breaks where I think he should have spent more time and focus on.
“Bamako Love”, written by Don Cherry, is a welcome change of pace here and “Boom Bap Bop” is a deliciously unfinished foray into the dry drum and bass world of hip-hop and “Steelo” another pretty free and open affair. The Digable Planets-inspired “Able Souls Dig Planets”comes close to that early 90s vibe again and the remaining “Speaking From Jupiter” and “Unarmed With A Mic” are both pretty heavy and exuberant pieces.