James Brandon Lewis, Patrick Holmes, Ches Smith & Josh Werner ‘Resilient Vessels Live at The Cell’ 200g Vinyl (RRGEMS) 4/5

In an interview with 15questions.net, bassist Josh Werner described his preferred style art of music-making: “Improvising in person with other humans is the ultimate way to collaborate. Playing free music with no pre-composed songs, no chord charts, no safety net is the pinnacle of musical expression for me at this point, and no technology can ever catch up to that freedom of expression.”

There’s very little that could paint as eloquent a picture for what’s achieved on ‘Resilient Vessels Live at the Cell’ than that. Released through RR Gems, the label based in Estonia whose mission statement is to wave the flag for “free-form, jazz and experimental music” have just unveiled a project that absolutely typifies those intentions.

‘Resilient Vessels…’ proves to be another project indicative of the times in which it was created in – with respect to last year’s Covid quarantine conditions, what was to be a live performance as part of Werner’s residency at The Cell Gallery (New York) was instead a pre-recorded one for people to experience at a later time. And in light of Werner’s comments cited at the opening of this review, his collaboration with three revered names within New York’s live music scene, as well as themselves noted improvisers, would surely have proven to be a dream ensemble and experience.

Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis brings his distinguished class to the quartet – as a performer, writer, producer and composer, Lewis has seen his star rise to incredible heights over the recent years. Having released nine albums as a bandleader, the Howard University graduate and recipient of DownBeat magazine’s Rising Star award, Lewis has established a formidable reputation based around a stunning catalogue of music and dedication to his craft. Another staple of New York’s live stages, drummer Ches Smith can boast of being a part of an extensive array of diverse musical collectives and ensembles including performances rooted in religious and folkloric groups. The Texas-born, New York resident, Patrick Holmes with clarinet in tow marks another notable inclusion following his contributions to the collectives of Five Dollar Priest, Listening Group and Modra. And of course, celebrated bassist Josh Werner rounds the quartet out with a project that perhaps did not complete in the way he initially had envisioned but has subsequently found a new path to pass its magic onto the world.

Over the course of the nine tracks presented on ‘Resilient Vessels…’, the improvisational elements are certainly prevalent and beautifully captured throughout tracks that boast voracious energy like ‘Gotham Rundown’ or the sublime eight-minute gem that serves as the album’s title track. An accompanying video for ‘Embody’ (which can be viewed through the album’s Bandcamp page) featuring shots of the players performing together, while wearing the mandatory face masks, interspersed with video of a foggy New York City all highlight the surreal times that impacted the album’s creation.

With the prospect of the world moving into a post-Covid era, hopefully, the Lewis/Smith/Holmes/Werner quartet will be able to reconvene for more performances together and maybe even gift us with an official follow-up to this fantastic offering.

Imran Mirza