For Mahalia, With Love


Double LP version. "James Brandon Lewis' second album with the glorious Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia, With Love. This highly anticipated new album -- following on their Jesup Wagon -- reimagines songs made famous by the gospel icon who galvanized a nation with her voice. Whereas Lewis used his transformative talents to newly illuminate renaissance man George Washington Carver on Jesup Wagon, the saxophonist does the same here for gospel-music force of nature Mahalia Jackson. The album consists of nine gospel songs made famous by Jackson, plus another indelible tune written by Lewis. 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 James and the band (William Parker on bass, Chad Taylor on drums, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, and Chris Hoffman on cello) conjure with this music is miraculous. 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. The double CD and LP editions also exclusively include the contemporaneous suite, 'These Are Soulful Days,' JBL's first composition for strings; performed with the Lutosławski Quartet."