Anthony Branker & Word Play
The title of this album immediately tells the listener they are in for a challenging listen. Anger and injustice are strong themes in composer/conductor Anthony Branker's lengthy liner notes and the text attached to the title track, were it to be verbalized on the record, would likely keep it out of most people's shuffle playlist. The backstory on Branker's compositions are essential to a complete understanding of his intent and without that information things could be easily misunderstood because the sounds on the primarily instrumental recording are not nearly as frustrated. Instead, they are tight, funky performances by a sextet that only occasionally carries the disgust being valiantly addressed.
Album opener "Let's Conversate!" bounces via Jim Ridl's Fender Rhodes. Kenny Davis holds down a groove on electric bass as the seamless horns dash in and out of Branker's tight formation. "Dance Like No One Is Watching" continues that feel, intricately playing the three horns off of each other.
The album peaks with "Across the Divide," a driving ensemble tune led by trumpeter Eli Asher that solicits strong solo spots from trombonist Andy Hunter and Ridl before returning to Asher’s soaring spotlight. Drummer Donald Edwards holds it all together with intricate maneuvers across his cymbals.
The title track opens into a free-flowing exploration that finds a lackadaisical swing for the soloists to stretch out on. Hunter and Asher engage in a fluttering conversation before the off-kilter melody returns with urgency.
The biggest gap between sound and fury would be the final track, "Ballad For Trayvon Martin." Recorded less than six months after Martin's senseless murder, the ballad employs some syrupy synthesized strings that detract from tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen’s full-bodied call. Both Bowen and Ridl take engaging and contemplative solos that would make the closer a highlight of the album had those digital strings been powered off.
Uppity: Let’s Conversate; Dance Like No One is Watch; Three Gifts (from a Nigerian Mother to God); Across the Divide; Uppity; Ballad for Trayvon Martin. (41:50)
Personnel: Ralph Bowen, tenor saxophone; Andy Hunter, trombone and keyboards; Eli Asher, trumpet and flugelhorn; Jim Ridl, piano and Fender Rhodes; Kenny Davis, bass; Donald Edwards, drums; Charmaine Lee, vocals; Anthony Branker, composer and musical director.
Ordering info: www.originarts.com