★★★ ½ On his third Ascent project, Princeton University educator Anthony Branker challenges preconceptions that a composer's erudition might impinge upon accessibility. From the humming bird-paced piano and horn vamp that opens the rousing "The House Of Brotherhood Of The Black Heads" to Tia Fuller's blistering solo on "The Renewal," Branker inspires buoyant, animated performances from his sextet. Bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Adam Cruz guide each other into the pocket on the title track: Cruz then steps out of it to support an onslaught of percussive tenor lines, each of which creates a metered tension that turns rapturously free. 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 piano interludes with a gentle yet dynamic solo on "A Smile Awaits." Estonian singer Kadri Voorand crafted lyrics for four out of the disc's tracks. Her words reflect her reaction to Branker's music, as her phrasing plays hide-and-seek with melodies. The effect can be over-the-top, though a few uncomfortable notes barely blemish an otherwise moving listen.