Artist: Mark Lewis
Album: Sunlight Shines In
Label: Audio Daddio
Year Of Release: 2023
Format: FLAC (tracks)
01. Lunar Escape
02. Mike’s Tango
03. Ghost of a Chance
04. Sunlight Shines In
05. Leaving Fall Behind
06. Square B
07. Julie’s Butterfly
09. The H Is Silent
10. Swami’s Song
11. Lovely Dancer
Veteran alto saxophonist/flutist Mark Lewis convenes a West Coast jazz summit on Sunlight Shines In, set for a March 24 release on the Audio Daddio label. Recorded in 2019, the album teams Seattle-area-based Lewis with the superb Southern California pianist Ron Kobayashi and his trio (bassist Baba Elefante and drummer Steve Dixon) on a set of Lewis’s original compositions, with ace trumpeter (and the album’s recording engineer) Nolan Shaheed joining in on two tracks.
Born and raised in Washington State, Lewis has built a career on making music with whomever, and wherever, his musical instincts lead him. In this case, they led him to encounter Kobayashi’s trio, quickly engaging them for some gigs at the legendary Lighthouse club in Hermosa Beach, California, and elsewhere.
“I heard them play and thought this is the sound I’d like to have,” Lewis says. Once the live dates were complete, he documented that sound with the band on Sunlight Shines In, recorded at Shaheed’s studio in Pasadena.
Lewis is legally blind, perhaps leading one to wonder how he came to such a visually loaded album title. Any such questioning will end, though, when the listener encounters the luminous, gentle warmth of tracks like the lithe opener “Lunar Escape” or the waltzing title track. “Ghost of a Chance” is positively gleeful in its swing, and even “Rain,” ironically enough, manages to generate a sunny disposition. Of course, where there’s sunlight there’s also shadow, and the band takes a mellower and moodier tack on the delicate “Julie’s Butterfly” and the haunting flute/trumpet feature “Leaving Fall Behind,” composed in response to news of Miles Davis’s death. Shaheed contrasts his exquisite muted horn on the latter track with a bright, open tone on “Swami’s Song,” a sensuous tenor feature for Lewis. “Mike’s Tango,” a vehicle for Lewis’s gorgeous flute work, is a pure expression of affection for the late pianist Mike Renzi. Sunlight Shines In is a true meeting of creative minds, a—pardon the pun—shining example of the magic that can happen when a group of like-minded, creative, and empathetic musicians find each other.
Mark Lewis was born January 26, 1958 in Tacoma, Washington, and raised on a farm in the surrounding area. Profoundly visually impaired, he made sense of the world through music—especially the jazz records in his parents’ sizable collection. At the age of nine he began playing music himself, starting on his grandfather’s C melody saxophone and switching to his uncle’s old alto a year later.
Starting his first band while still in middle school, Lewis was leading several by the time he finished high school (in addition to playing in the school’s stage and concert band and performing music for school plays). He studied composition, flute, piano, and electronic music at Western Washington University and at Seattle’s Cornish Institute of Allied Arts.
Even big-city Seattle could not keep him, however, and in 1978, at 20 years old, Lewis flew to Europe. He made a home in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where he made himself a force on the local, national, and international jazz scene. He led three working bands as well as creating a highly regarded record label, Audio Daddio, with Lewis himself as the house producer.
At the same time, Lewis made frequent trips to back to the United States, continuing to work in Seattle and also establishing himself firmly on the Bay Area jazz scene, where he settled after returning to North America for good in the mid-1990s. He worked with the likes of Mark Levine, Randy Brecker, Donald Bailey, Ted Gioia, Bobby Hutcherson, and Larry Grenadier before returning to Washington to be closer to his family. He’s remained based in the Puget Sound area ever since, though Lewis frequently steps into the wider world to make music—whether around the Pacific Northwest, with his connections in Europe and California, or in jazz’s capital city, as on 2018’s hard-swinging New York Session.
Lewis is a dizzyingly prolific musician, with more than 20 albums and an astounding 1,700-plus compositions to his name. The material on Sunlight Shines In draws from all across that staggering repertoire, with pieces from the 1980s to the present day reinterpreted by Lewis and his crack ensemble.