The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis

by | Mar 26, 2024 | Reviews

The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis



They actually sound like a band. That’s probably the most impressive thing about The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis, which, by virtue of the people involved, sets an immediately high bar. It isn’t The Messthetics, with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis playing over top what the group would might typically do; nor is it the Messthetics serving as a backing band for Lewis. This is a true collaboration that demonstrate true musical kinship.


Sure, we all knew that the Messthetics could do a legitimate jazz record, but to hear what actually sounds like, in collaboration with the superb Lewis, is a revelation. And while this most assuredly falls within the context of jazz (or, as Nicholas Payton would rather we call it, Black American Music), the four musicians’ experimental and boundary-pushing leanings still are on full display. 


The Messthetics performing

The Messthetics performing

The Messthetics with James Brandon Lewis in 2022 (photos by Kate Hoos)


The lead track, “L’Orso,” eases us in. A nice, buzzy roll from drummer Brandon Canty slides into a simple, sparse beat with guitarist Anthony Pirog, bassist Joe Lally, and Lewis engaged in a three-way conversation. Canty remains sure and steady, while longtime battery mate Lally offers up very cool bass chordings, giving Pirog plenty of space to shred. Pirog then falls back and begins a sort of call-and-response with Lally, while Lewis solos. Simple, sparse, thrilling, tasteful. 


“Emergence” follows, with a groove reminiscent of Canty and Lally’s previous long running and iconic band, Fugazi, but it soon launches into something else. The rhythm partners double time, while Lewis and Pirog play in and around each other in a what can be described as intergalactic ska. Another left turn as the rhythm section turns up the intensity, Pirog steps on the distortion, and Lewis is off to the races. Punk jazz, baby.



The group slow down the pace for “Three Sisters,” featuring a dexterous guitar theme that segues into languid sax melodies and back again. The versatility of the rhythm section—the stuff of legend—is ever present here. Restraint, taste, and decades of telepathy are evident, as the rhythm shifts into high gear. Lally holds it down, while Canty plays off-time around him, while Pirog and Lewis solo and play off each other. There’s an improvisational feel to it all, belying the newness of this collaboration. Yet, they are together.


Another superb cut is the last tune, “Fourth Wall.” Pirog arpeggiates the main theme, mildly evoking Radiohead, with Canty and Lally locked into a relentless, driving groove. Lewis stretching out long, warm notes over top. Lewis, then Pirog, solo triumphantly over the krautrock-style rhythm. It’s hypnotic, heady, and hooky, feeling like it could go on forever—and you kind of wish it would.


It says a lot about the quality of the record, too, that it is out on the legendary jazz label, Impulse! Records. This ain’t no fluke or forced mashup. The music feels organic; it flows, it drives; it’s beautiful, it’s gnarly; it’s punk, it’s jazz; it’s traditional, it’s experimental. And it’s absolutely worth picking up.



The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis is out now via Impulse! Records and available via Bandcamp and all major streamers.




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