Anthony Branker teaches music composition at Princeton and leads a couple of Jazz groups on the side. Dialogic is the second release by his quartet, Word Play. He himself no longer performs, but he composes the group's material and serves as its musical director.
His compositions are more than mere tunes, but they are tuneful and they serve ably as vehicles for the consummate improvisations of his fine cadre of musicians, all of whom boast impressive credentials in their own right.
The pieces on this CD vary broadly. A few examples: the opening "Ancestral Tales," although based on a simple melody, alternates between metrical complexity and lilting waltz time. It stands in contrast with the "Land of Milk and Honey," which follows at a slow, contemplative pace, but features double time playing by the bassist and pianist as well as a virtuosic Breckerish tenor solo. "Iggery-Poncheek," named after a made-up language created by Branker's young daughter, is appropriately light-hearted and humorous. Its melody is played in unison by the piano, soprano, and bass with room left for drum breaks, and its solos are especially interesting: Bowen starts his in short bursts before breaking into ferocious up-tempo swinging; Ridl employs short lines, long ones, and note clusters in an improvisation that is almost a composition in itself; and Cruz gets a long, exhilarating workout. The funky "Skirting the Issue" features Fender Rhodes and a strong back-beat, while the piano-less "Dance Aesthetics" proceeds over a mostly repetitive bass line and the reflective ballad "The Selfless Soul" provides the soloists an opportunity for warm, expressive playing.
This music is adventurous yet reflective of mainstream modern values. It piques the interest in a comfortable way.