Released September 8, 2023
[ TAO 13 ]
// 2CD – deluxe 8-panel digipak
This deluxe expanded 2CD first edition includes an exclusive CD of the contemporaneously created suite, These Are Soulful Days: JBL’s first composition for strings; performed with the Lutosławski Quartet.
// 2LP – in wide-spine sleeve, with insert
This ltd. edition 2LP was exquisitely mastered for vinyl.
Package includes a (bandcamp-hosted) exclusive download code for the contemporaneously created suite, These Are Soulful Days': JBL’s first composition for strings; performed with the Lutosławski Quartet.
James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone, arrangements
Kirk Knuffke: cornet
William Parker: bass
Chad Taylor: drums
Chris Hoffman: cello
Love is connection. Love is gratitude. Love is passion. Love is audacity. These qualities define tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’ second album with the glorious Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia, With Love. Whereas Lewis used his transformative talents to illuminate renaissance man George Washington Carver in a whole new way on Jesup Wagon, the groundbreaking 2021 masterpiece that swept most major jazz polls, the saxophonist does the same for the pioneering gospel-music force of nature Mahalia Jackson. But this time it’s personal, because Lewis lived her music growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., playing there in churches as a youth and being nurtured by his grandmother, who had received Mahalia’s singing like a bolt from above.
Much more than a tribute, this remarkable album is a conversation with Mahalia Jackson in which the bandleader spins melodies out of her voice that are lifted further by the incredible power and empathy of the Red Lily Quintet: William Parker on double bass, Chad Taylor on drums, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, and Chris Hoffman on cello.
The music of Mahalia Jackson needs no explanation or exposition here beyond saying it riveted millions of Americans starting in the 1940s in a way not achieved by anyone before her. Lewis makes a critical point in his liner-notes accompanying this release: “It is important to be seen rather than liked or disliked because a presence moves past subjectivity.” This is the key to the music on For Mahalia, With Love: Lewis did not make it to be adored or receive accolades, but as an exchange. “It’s really a three-way conversation between Mahalia, my grandmother and me,” Lewis says.
The album consists of nine gospel songs made famous by Jackson plus another indelible tune written by Lewis: “Sparrow,” “Swing Low,” “Go Down Moses,” “Wade in the Water,” “Calvary,” “Deep River,” “Elijah Rock,” “Were You There” and “Precious Lord.” The challenge was to turn these songs into jazz, the 21st century variety. And that’s where not only Lewis’ sensibilities come in, but the band’s as well.
What the Red Lily Quintet conjures with this music is miraculous. Now, on its second outing, this band must be recognized as one of the most transcendent expressions of group chemistry to emerge from New York City in many years. Lewis’ gospel origins are evident and wholly operational within a scintillating blend of pre- and post-avant contexts, with the leader’s love cry on tenor meshing at cloud level with Kirk Knuffke’s plaints on cornet. Rooting the band while somehow defying gravity is the bass playing of William Parker, who with his unparalleled mastery of intonation delivers each bouncing note as a distinct flavor curated for the split-second moment. Chad Taylor, hailing from Chicago, seems to embrace everything swept up by that city during the great Northern Migration – including Mahalia Jackson herself – in the tidal surges of his drumming. On cello, Chris Hoffman summons bright earth tones to move beautifully through this wondrous blend.
The entire thing rides on the inspired melodies by Lewis that refract and reassemble those of Mahalia’s original numbers, enabling the soul, tears, joy and devotion she whipped up to be heard in a wholly new context.
“She was beloved by everyone,” Lewis says of Mahalia. “She transcended race lines and division, which translated to the power of her voice to transcend the subjective. She broke down barriers. She was a dear friend of Martin Luther King, and always gave her substantial personal support to the collective cause whenever called for.” And she did all this while never once compromising her music.
Regarding un-compromised devotion and mutually deep respect, James Brandon Lewis was last year granted the opportunity to give flowers to Sonny Rollins, in an exclusive interview with the grandmaster. In the midst of that conversation, Sonny turned the tables on James, telling him: “When I listen to you, I listen to Buddha, I listen to Confucius … I listen to the deeper meaning of life. You are keeping the world in balance.”
Also of note: The first edition pressings (both CD & LP) of For Mahalia, With Love will exclusively include an additional suite of music, entitled These Are Soulful Days. This is JBL’s first long-form composition for strings, performed by Lewis and the Lutosławski Quartet. It was recorded in its world premiere at the Jazztopad Festival in Wrocław, Poland on November 20, 2021. As James writes in the accompanying notes, this work celebrates “the fabric of a quilted history of African-American music from its folk traditions of blues, spirituals and jazz”. That commonality between the two works, and the synchrony between Lewis’ composition of These Are Soulful Days and his initial development of ideas toward For Mahalia, With Love, made it a natural to include here. Furthermore, a pair of the themes brought to vibrant new life by the Red Lily Quintet on For Mahalia.. are woven into ..Soulful Days, and it is a wonder to hear their resonance in such a thoroughly different context.
For Mahalia, With Love
1. Sparrow (4:00)
2. Swing Low (9:21)
3. Go Down Moses (9:53)
4. Wade In The Water (8:17)
5. Calvary (8:52)
6. Deep River (9:20)
7. Elijah Rock (9:03)
8. Were You There (8:35)
9. Precious Lord (4:11)
All compositions traditional; arranged by James Brandon Lewis
Except “Sparrow” medley : “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” comp. by Charles H. Gabriel/Civilla D. Martin & “Even The Sparrow” comp. by James Brandon Lewis; arr. by JBL
And “Precious Lord“ comp. by Thomas A. Dorsey; arr. by JBL
All arrangements and “Even The Sparrow”
© James Brandon Lewis Music (ASCAP)
Recorded, Mixed & Mastered by Paul Wickliffe at Skyline Studios, NJ
Produced by James Brandon Lewis
Project Coordinator & Production Assistance: Steven Joerg
Executive Producer: Whit Dickey
Art & Design by William Mazza Studio
Reference photo for cover art Creative Commons
(c) ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf:
Comet Photo AG (Zürich)