Anthony Branker & Ascent: Spirit Songs (2006)
Composer and arranger Anthony Branker shows an inclination toward the spiritual on this aptly titled effort, also tilting his pen in tributes to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. As an arranger, he has the gift of letting ensemble lines and solo spots tell their separate, but nevertheless connected stories. All of this works to the good, and given the fact that he has some insinuating rhythms that change the tack and meter, the album makes for some perky listening. Bringing it all upfront is Ascent, a band of adventurous players whose ideas ferment in both solo passages and group interaction.
"Parris in April, one of the more beautiful tunes, is given its head in the eloquent melodicism of Antonio Hart's alto saxophone. Drummer Ralph Peterson triggers a light lilt, and as Hart continues to evoke the richness of the tune, trombonist Clifford Adams adds counterpoint, and then the deeper pith of Ralph Bowen's tenor saxophone extends the ambit as he changes contour and instils some hard lines. When Hart returns, he brings in another spell of captivating inventions that coil and straighten with flexed intensity. The final layer of beckoning comes from Jonny King, who makes the piano sing a traipsing, happy song.
On the up-tempo groover "Imani (Faith) Adams blows in the funk and the saxophones sidle against his trombone in lissom lines. The atmosphere created by King and the intense, high flying Bowen continues the heady whirl, supported by the crisp drumming of Peterson and the urgent bass of John Benitez, which nail it spot on. "Mentor downright sparkles, injected with a bright hue by King, his harmonic skills opening his view of the path and enriching it. The tune evolves through the big tenor sound of Bowen and ebullience that leaps out of Adams' trombone.
Track Listing: Chant For Peace Eternal; Parris In April; Spirit Song; Sketches of Selim; Imani (Faith); In God's Hands; Mentor; J.C.'s Passion.
Personnel: Antonio Hart: alto and soprano saxophone; Ralph Bowen: tenor and soprano saxophone; Clifford Adams: trombone; Jonny King: piano; John Benitez: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums.