Composer and noted music educator Anthony Branker's third release for Origin Records , Dialogic, finds the Princeton Professor in good company. Under the ensemble name Word Play, Branker directs a stellar quartet through nine of his original pieces. An underlying soulful vibe permeates the music, ranging from straight-ahead, swinging jazz to not-so-easy-to-label urban-inspired textures.
Saxophonist Ralph Bowen and pianist Jim Ridl are high-caliber interpreters who seem to find pleasure in Branker's lyrical leanings. The two mesh melody and improvisation gracefully, relishing in the composer's harmonic sensibilities, especially on the lush "Land of Milk and Honey." Bowen's soprano serves well the snake-like winding theme on "Skirting the Issue." Along with drummer Adam Cruz's alluring groove, the tune's funky, open vamp vibe is an example of Branker's willingness to let his musicians take part in shaping the project's musical direction. The same can be said of the modal-based up-tempo swing of "Y not," featuring Bowen's dynamic prowess on tenor and a meaty, chops-filled solo by bassist Kenny Davis. Cruz and Davis work well together, creating hypnotic fervor on "Dance of the Aesthetics" and a rock-solid foundation on "More Than Words," a rather simple, funky track with curious appeal, sans piano.