James Brandon Lewis Credit: Courtesy of Akamu

On his new album, Molecular, Brooklyn saxophonist James Brandon Lewis showcases a vision that’s both microscopic and immense. In the liner notes he describes a compositional model that draws inspiration from the structural components of DNA, comparing the shape of the music to a double helix: “Within a single melodic line emerges a counter line of varied rhythms, pitches, and harmony,” he writes. That image also references the way Lewis’s compositions weave together a world of disparate sources. The members of his quartet thrive on such contrasts, and on Molecular they intertwine feelings of mystery and joy. On the title track, changing tempos create constant surprises; Lewis and pianist Aruán Ortiz complement each other while also conveying different senses of time. Likewise, on “Cesaire,” Lewis layers a heavy tone atop keyboard runs from Ortiz that seem lighter and higher in register. Lewis’s designs also provide for open spaces that are key to the quartet’s constantly shifting emphases, such as the pairing of bassist Brad Jones and drummer Chad Taylor as lead voices on part of “Helix.” Brief forays into spontaneous composition (“Per 1” and “Per 2”) serve as punctuation to this song cycle. Lewis’s tenor style often nods toward classic swing and spirituals, especially on the closing ballad, “Loverly.” He’s delved into this territory before; his other 2020 album, Live in Willisau (a duet with Taylor), includes a reworking of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” But on Molecular his group assemble all these inspirational elements into something entirely original.   v