Anthony Branker is a music professor and the head of the jazz program at Princeton University. Although a trumpeter, Branker is best known as an educator, conductor and composer. On "Blessings," his second recording as a leader, Branker is the non-playing leader of a very impressive septet that interprets nine of his compositions.
Branker wrote these pieces a few years ago when he was serving on the faculty of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar and visiting professor. The music has sacred titles including "Ascent," "The Holy Innocent" (which is dedicated to his late daughter), "Crystal Angel," "Arise" and "Praise," but the music is usually not overly somber. With such fine soloists as Steve Wilson, Ralph Bowen on tenor and soprano, trombonist Clifford Adams Jr., pianist Jonny King and vibraphonist Bryan Carrott (who sometimes takes honors), Professor Branker has the perfect musicians to do justice to his music. bassist Belden Bullock and drummer Wilby Fletcher, with Renato Thoma joining on congas for two numbers, join King to form a tasteful swinging rhythm section.
The results are both spiritual and soulful, with plenty of heartfelt emotion expressed both in the solos and in Anthony Branker's writing.