Review: Anthony Branker & Ascent, “Dance Music”

July, 2011
3.5 stars

On his third Ascent project, Princeton educator Anthony Branker challenges any preconceptions that a composer’s erudition might impinge upon the accessibility of a composition. From the hummingbird-paced piano and horn vamp that opens the rousing “House of Brotherhood of the Black Heads” to Tia Fuller’s blistering, break-away solo on “The Renewal,” Branker’s material inspires buoyant, animated performances from his sextet.

Bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Adam Cruz guide each other directly into the pocket on the title track; Cruz steps out of it just long enough to support an onslaught of percussive tenor lines, each of which creates a metered tension that gets set rapturously free each time the drums come back out front. When he’s not slapping the swing out of his instrument, Davis shows off his tender side, finding a pillowy bottom on “A Beautiful Life” and balancing out breezy piano interludes with a gentle yet dynamic solo on “A Smile Awaits.”

Estonian singer Kadri Voorand, who crafted lyrics for four out of the disc’s all-original track listing, rounds out the group. Her words reflect her own reaction to Branker’s music (“Asking Answers”) or imply a human story through emotion (“The Holy Innocent”), while her unconventional phrasing plays hide-and-seek with melodies. At times, the effect is somewhat over-the-top, though a few uncomfortable notes barely blemish an otherwise moving listen.

“Dance Music:” 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 (60:00).

Personnel: Anthony Branker, compositions and arrangements; Kadri Voorand, vocals and lyrics (2,5,7,8); Tia Fuller, alto sax; Ralph Bowen, tenor and soprano saxes; Clifford Adams, Jr., trombone; Jonny King, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Adam Cruz, drums; Freddie Bryant, guitar.

Ordering Info: Origin Records


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