Anthony Branker & Imagine

What Place Can Be for Us?



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MUSIC REVIEW BY Jan Hocek, His Voice (Czech Republic)


In February, composer and conductor Anthony Branker released his eighth title on the renowned label Origin Records. The content of the new album is the ten-movement suite What Place Can Be For Us? about "seeking and finding a place that can be a refuge, a place of inclusion and belonging for people of color and people persecuted by oppression, war and hunger," as the author himself put it. And he is disappointed that he is not the United States, "a country that is permeated with never-ending racism." This time, his group Imagine consists of seven instrumentalists, and in two parts of the suite, a female reciter and a vocalist. And under Branker's direction, they created a polished fusion of post-bop and social commentary. And he does so with sweeping and striking strokes.

Dr. Anthony Branker is of Caribbean descent, so he knows what he's talking about. But on the other hand, he broke through as an artist and became recognized. His music stands firmly on jazz traditions, but at the same time pushes it in new and daring directions. His previous recording Beauty Within (2016) won three gold medals at the Global Music Awards, placing him alongside Esperanza Spalding and John Daversy. In the DownBeat magazine's international critics' poll, he also ranks first as a composer. As a conductor he has worked with a host of greats, including Phil Woods, Ted Curson, Oliver Lake, Frank Foster, Bobby Watson, Bob Mintzer, Don Braden, Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry. He also conducted the Princeton University Orchestra in the world premiere of his own composition Ballad for Trayvon Martin for Orchestra and Jazz Quartet (2013). Etc. etc.

Branker leads three jazz groups. In addition to the current Imagine, there are Word Play and Ascent, in which Ralph Bowen, Rudy Royston, David Binney, Mark Gross, Steve Wilson, Antonio Hart, Conrad Herwig, Clifford Adams, Orrin Evans and Kenny Davis play, for example. He performed and recorded as a trumpet player with the Spirit of Life Ensemble, including a five-year stint at New York's internationally renowned Sweet Basil Jazz Club. He stood on stage with such personalities as undoubtedly Billy Higgins, John Hicks, Roscoe Mitchell, Gary Burton, Steve Nelson, Stanley Jordan... But only until 1999, when health problems made it impossible for him to play the trumpet and teach. However, he could devote himself fully to composing and conducting.

Imagine, which recorded the new album, consists of tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III. , which I wrote about here some time ago in connection with the excellent album In Common III. ( here ), trumpeter Philip Dizack , alto and soprano saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf , guitarist Pete McCann , pianist Fabian Almazan , drummer Donald Edwards and double bassist and bassist Linda May Han Oh , who I have already introduced here as a member of the quintet of Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas on the Shorter recording Other Worlds ( here ).

The two-parter features Alison Crockett reciting and singing. It is right in the opening track The Door of No Return, in which he interprets the text of the contemporary poet of Brazilian origin Beatriz Esmer. In it, he talks and sings about enslaved Africans, of whom there were the most on the American continent precisely in Brazil. In terms of music, there is a lot going on here - piano ostinato, layered breaths, artful counterpoint, hypnotic rhythm, dense tenor saxophone solo, also a dive - all of this with its expressive power evokes, for example, Charles Mingus. Crockett then returns in the third part of I, Too, Sing America, reciting Langston Hughes' verses from The Weary Blues (1926) wrapped in a soft melody with an impressive saxophone chorus and gradation through the title tagline.

The second movement of Sundown Town is fueled by a piano trio, melancholic breaths and emotive piano and trumpet solos. On Invisible reigns the energy of nervously sharpened guitars, dense rhythms, sharp jazz-rock beats and a contrasting, because wistful alto saxophone solo. This is followed by We Want Where the Wind Took Us, an acoustic ballad with beautiful double bass and piano impressions about the hope of refugees sailing at sea, not perceiving danger, only the wind driving their rickety ships to a better life. The bass-hardened sound of a mixture of hard bop and fusion saturates the titular What Place Can Be For Us? with graded solo parts for trumpet, tenor and drums. The bass guitar plays juicy hard bop with rock riffs Sunken Place, metamorphosed into a free jazz volcano. The eighth part of The Trail of Tears to Standing Rock refers to the reign of the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. His slogan was: Let the people rule , but he did not consider the Indian and black population to be this people. Above all, he became notorious for his harshness towards the Indians. He evicted them to inhospitable parts of the country and brutally suppressed the slightest expression of resistance or just plain dissatisfaction. Later presidents were less harsh, but they did not improve the living conditions of the Native Americans. The piece opens with a piano, the trumpeter plays a lyrical solo at first and does not hint at drama, but gradually he bends his chorus together with the other protagonists into a gradation arc. The final two parts, Sanctuary City and Placeless, represent hardbop rides par excellence, including sharp solos, but also finally with a melodic, hopeful coda.

Translated from Czech





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