***1/2 (3.5 stars)
Anger and injustice are strong themes on composer and conductor Anthony Branker's new album. Knowing the backstory of Branker's compositions, told in his lengthy liner notes, is essential to a complete understanding of the project, though the funky performances on the primarily instrumental recording are not nearly as frustrated.
"Let's Conversate!" bounces alongside Jim Ridl's Fender Rhodes, while Kenny Davis holds down a groove on electric bass and seamless horns dash in and out of Branker's tight formation. "Dance Like No One Is Watching" continues that feel, intricately playing the three horns off of each other. The album peaks with "Across the Divide," a driving ensemble tune led by trumpeter Eli Asher that solicits solo spots from trombonist Andy hunter and Ridl.
The biggest gap between sound and fury is "Ballad For Trayvon Martin." Recorded less than six months after Martin's senseless killing, the ballad emplys syrupy synthesized strings that detract from tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen's engaging and contemplative solo.