Anthony Branker & Ascent: Dance Music (2011)
Dr. Anthony Branker holds an endowed jazz chair, and is currently director of the Program in Jazz Studies at Princeton University. A composer and musical director, Branker established the jazz collective, Anthony Branker & Ascent in 2004, featuring an A-list of playersamong them, saxophonists Tia Fuller and Ralph Bowen fronting a light ensemble, with vocalist Kadri Voorand. Dance Music is the group's third album of all-original music, inspired by Branker's desire to infuse his compositions with an element of dance. Despite this intent, the only true dance numbers on the disc are the Latin jazz finale, "Depende," the funk-driven title track, and a couple of the soft vocal ballads, appropriate for a slow dance; the majority of the selections incorporate a more modern jazz approach, with very impressive results.
Four of the ten Branker originals are vocals pieces, with lyrics penned by Voorand, whose seductive voice is first heard on "Mysterious Ways," accompanied by Bowen on soprano. Pianist Jonny King and saxophonist Bowen combine for an inspiring performance on "A Smile Awaits" with bassist Kenny Davis throwing in a few firm bass lines towards the end. Fuller tees off on "The House of the Brotherhood of the Black Heads," leaving no question about whom this number belongs, though Bowen also contributes a few sharp solos.
Guitarist Freddie Bryant appears on "Truth," lending a few delicate chords to this rather relaxing, mid-tempo piece, in stark contrast to the session's closing spicy statement, the Latin "Depende," delivered by trombonist Clifford Adams, Jr. Branker may not perform, but shines through the quality of his compositions, as well as his direction of the group. While the type and level of dance and swing music contained on this recording is challengeable, there's no denying the obvious: Dance Music is unquestionably a strong outing of engaging modern jazz.
Track Listing: The Renewal; Mysterious Ways; Dance Music; A Smile Awaits; Asking Answers; The House of the Brotherhood of the Black Heads; The Holy Innocent; A Beautiful Life; Truth; Depende.
Personnel: Anthony Branker: musical director; Kadri Voorand: vocals (2, 5, 7, 8); Tia Fuller: alto saxophone; Ralph Bowen: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Clifford Adams, Jr.: trombone; Jonny King: piano; Kenny Davis: bass; Adam Cruz: drums; Freddie Bryant: guitar (9);
Record Label: Origin Records