Anthony Branker & Imagine: What Place Can Be for Us? - A Suite in Ten Movements

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Anthony Branker (rocznik 1958) na swojej dziewiątej płycie dla amerykańskiej Origin Records wchodzi na iście mistrzowski poziom jazzowego wtajemniczenia. Od pierwszego utworu zagarnia słuchacza, zabiera go ze sobą w niebezpieczną podróż pełną zwrotów akcji, kulminacji i zaskoczeń.
...Lektura "What Place Can Be For Us?" przywodzi mi na myśl najlepsze płyty Steve'a Colemana. Inni muzycy, inne środowisko, inne drogi życiowe - ale podobnie wciągająca gęstość narracji i bogactwo świetnie zestawionych detali!



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Mainstream Jazz / Indie Jazz
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kraj: USA
opakowanie: Digipackowe etui
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Anthony Branker (rocznik 1958) na swojej dziewiątej płycie dla amerykańskiej Origin Records wchodzi na iście mistrzowski poziom jazzowego wtajemniczenia. Od pierwszego utworu zagarnia słuchacza, zabiera go ze sobą w niebezpieczną podróż pełną zwrotów akcji, kulminacji i zaskoczeń.
A że mamy do czynienia z kompozytorem, którego utwory grane były lub są przez Kenny'ego Barrona, Benny'ego Cartera, Eddie'go Hendersona, Johna Hicksa, Stanley'a Jordana, Taliba Kibwe, Bena Allisona, Jane Ira Bloom, Dave'a Douglasa, John Beasley, i dyrygentem, którego chętnie do współpracy zapraszają muzycy tej miary, co Wynton Marsalis (podczas nagrywania "Abyssinian 200: A Gospel Celebration") czy Terence Blanchard "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina), nikt nie powinien być zdziwiony.

"What Place Can Be For Us?" – Suita w dziesięciu częściach, która porusza uniwersalne kwestie wykluczenia z powodów przynależności do mniejszości społecznych, zadziwia gęsto upchanymi pomysłami, realizowanym przez doborowy skład jazzmanów: saksofonista tenorowy Walter Smith III, trębacz Philip Dizack, saksofonista altowy i sopranowy Remy Le Boeuf, gitarzysta Pete McCann, pianista Fabian Almazan, basistka Linda May Han Oh, perkusista Donald Edwards i wokalistka Alison Crockett.

Lektura "What Place Can Be For Us?" przywodzi mi na myśl najlepsze płyty Steve'a Colemana. Inni muzycy, inne środowisko, inne drogi życiowe - ale podobnie wciągająca gęstość narracji i bogactwo świetnie zestawionych detali!
autor: Mateusz Matyjak
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Editor's info:
For his eighth release on Origin Records, composer Dr. Anthony Branker presents this captivating ten-movement suite that speaks to notions of “Place” and the overarching issues of inclusion and belonging, as well as circumstances of exploitation and zones of refuge experienced by people of color and other global citizens. It is brilliantly performed by the latest edition of his group Imagine, featuring tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, trumpeter Philip Dizack, alto saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf, guitarist Pete McCann, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Linda May Han Oh, drummer Donald Edwards, and vocalist/spoken-word artist Alison Crockett. Branker’s ensemble takes his expansive compositional vision and infuses it with passionate performances drenched with lyrical flow and ingenious rhythmic interplay.

"(Branker) illuminates the pungent individuality of each musician without compromising the prominence of his own voice…” -- JAZZIZ

“Honing a hybrid of freewheeling post-bop and social commentary…Branker incorporates these elements in broad, bold strokes, like a muralist. He has yet to make a bad record.” – JazzTimes

WHILE THE TRAJECTORY OF A JAZZ MUSICIAN'S career often follows a somewhat logical arc, others take more complex and evolving paths. The latter has been the fate — mostly self-designed — of Dr. Anthony Branker, whose latest album is one of his most ambitious projects. What Place Can Be For Us? A Suite In Ten Movements is a sweeping opus with sociopolitical and poetic content woven into a musical tapestry — with his band Imagine — which manages to be at once cerebral, emotive and viscerally exciting.
The project, Branker's eighth album for Origin Records, is imbued with the wisdom earned and musical lessons learned in his life as a veteran educator (currently at Rutgers, after retiring from Princeton), as a respected conductor for music by Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Duke Ellington, and a composer/conceptualist. His powers in and commitment to that role grew dramatically after catastrophic health issues more-or-less ended his life as a trumpeter in 1999. The long, dedicated road has led Branker to this point, and he professes to be as creatively engaged and forward-thinking as ever. At 65, he asserts, "I feel as though I am just beginning to come into my own as a composer, so I just want to keep writing, learning, growing and sharing."
As for the story, or matrix of stories, told in his new suite, Branker explains that "the actual commitment to write this suite came after a period of seeing some incredibly disturbing images on television of the horrific suffering the citizens of Syria were experiencing during the country's ongoing civil war. This was when many were seeking refuge in a number of countries. Interestingly, though, I had been thinking about a number of issues associated with the concept of 'place,' such as what does place mean or represent, and how it is a universal concept that all of us can relate to on some level. "With all of this swirling around in my mind, I was driven to develop this extended work, which would allow me to offer my own creative responses to a number of historical and social occurrences. I could begin to unpack such overarching issues as inclusion and belonging while also addressing what I have described as circumstances of exploitation and zones of refuge experienced by people of color and other global citizens."
As Branker says, working in the broader canvas and modular strategy of creating a suite, versus discrete "tunes," has been an awakening process for him as a composer. He recalls the influence of a BMI Jazz Composers Workshop in the early 1990s, with innovative big band leaders Jim McNeely and Manny Albam, and McNeely's narrative vison of writing "with characters and episodes unfolding and developing time as part of the flow of a piece. It has been an eye-opening experience to embrace this kind of organizational thinking because I can approach the writing process in a more open, organic and episodic way. I could now start to consider things more like a visual artist would or a filmmaker who is imagining flow in more cinematic terms."
Fittingly, the suite's journey opens with "Door Of No Return," a reference to a slave trade shipping "place" in Senegal, with vocalist Alison Crockett intoning text by Brazilian writer Beatrice Ezmer. Crockett returns on the turf
of Harlem Renaissance poet laureate Langston Hughes' "I, Too." Branker is quick to point out that the suite and its mutable definition of "place" relates to other oppressive geographic and ethnic conditions around the world. "Clearly," he comments, "we recognize that the voice Langston Hughes speaks through in his poem used in the movement 'I, Too, Sing America' is the voice of the African American community. However, if we
listen carefully, it will become clear that it can also be the voice of members of other disregarded groups within this country that clearly have the right to intone the words, 'I, Too, Am America.'"
In the instrumental component, driving yet sophisticated meshes of scored material slalom through themes, via a vibrant band including saxophonist Walter Smith III, trumpeter Remy le Beouf and guitarist Pete McCann. In some of the faster, more rhythmically intricate pieces in the suite, it's natural to detect qualities of the M-BASE movement, spearheaded by Steve Coleman, Greg Osby and others starting in 1980s Brooklyn. Although claiming no direct influence, Branker says, "I have probably been influenced by a lot of the same kinds of approaches and musical vibes that have inspired their way of knowing, experiencing, creating and communicating music. I am very moved by what I hear and the musical relationships that exist and evolve within these rhythmically complex and engaging compositions and improvisations. The work of M-BASE is crazy amazing."
Branker's musical lineage, as a first-generation American with parents from Trinidad and Barbados, includes Uncle Rupert, a music director and pianist with the Platters, and Uncle Roy, who wrote with Billy Strayhorn when both were with the Copasetics. Among the musical highlights in Branker's own career are a discography of a dozen-plus recordings and a role leading the Spirit of Life Ensemble, the regular Monday night band at Sweet Basil, the legendary Greenwich Village club of yore. A critical juncture in Branker's musical focus occurred in 1999, when he had a stroke during a big band rehearsal at Princeton. Two brain aneurysms and the discovery of AVM (arteriovenous malformation, the affliction from which guitarist Pat Martino suffered) guided him into writing, conceptualizing and conducting.
In his philosophy as a composer of jazz (however loosely defined), Branker points out that "the 'self' is always in relation to 'other,' and understanding that relationship as it occurs in a one-on-one situation or group setting and what happens when that becomes a main factor whether in a jazz group or in a classroom." As to his group Imagine, "This, for me as a composer, is infinitely more interesting and satisfying because the relationship between a composer and the performers can now be more collaborative and less heavy-handed from the perspective that a composer might have more of a tendency to want to dictate how a composition is 'supposed to be played.'"
Nearly a quarter century after his health crisis, Branker asserts, "I have grown quite a bit in my conceptual thinking, but I'm always trying to find new ways to continue this forward progress. There is so much that inspires me as a composer and I feel so incredibly energized and driven right now."

Ma Rainey channeled music as her ritual of "singing to understand life." Congressman John Lewis leveraged music towards the "good trouble" he created fighting for civil rights in an uncivil land. Anthony Branker understands music as the calculus of his life's work—the art of weaving words and sound into transcendent tapestries that explore the rich, complex, and nuanced aspects of intolerance, beauty, prejudice, spirituality, gender, equality and social justice.
The composite of this artistry exists within the remarkable circumference of his achievements, from conducting extended form compositions by Terence Blanchard and Duke Ellington, to Fulbright and National Endowment for the Humanities grant awards, and decades of accomplished musical scholarship and academic leadership at Princeton and currently Rutgers University. As composer, arranger, educator, scholar, conductor, and performer, Branker has traveled the world in service of blending a meticulous study of melody and rhythm, with the gravity of critical stories that have shaped his life and the world around him.
Leading three bands (Imagine, Word Play and Ascent), Branker deftly constructs his musical manifestos in pursuit of the kind of timeless recordings that make up his extensive artistic catalog. From the angular and often halting grandeur of albums like Beauty Within and Dialogic to the profound political interplay of Uppity and The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite, Branker excels at balancing structure with open forms, creating dynamic platforms encouraging collective conversation between the countless gifted musicians he collaborates with.
Beneath the choreography of such enduring melodies, complex rhythmic structures and sinuous harmonic lines is a relentlessly curious and contemplative mind. Embedded within the humble characteristics of a musician who routinely engages listeners "where they are," is an open invitation to experience beauty through the spiritual path of expanding one's social consciousness. In this unique space, music flowers through spoken-words, high-octane guitar play, kinesthetic rhythms, and a modal harmonic language flexible enough to encompass the variety of musical genres Branker molds into his compositions.
After witnessing the forced mass migration of Syrian civilians during their bloody civil war, Branker committed to composing 'What Place Can Be For Us?' as a suite of ten movements to unpack the "overarching issues of inclusion and belonging," while speaking to the "circumstances of exploitation and zones of refuge experienced by people of color and other global citizens." Simultaneously visceral and cinematic, Branker's genius resides in the tuneful craft of detailing these compositions with the depth, counterpoint and subliminal tension required to portray the solemn and stark realities of how place and belonging are defined within hostile environments.
'What Place Can Be For Us?' posits a deceptively simple question with a range of compositions that explore how slavery, xenophobia, systemic racism and cultural erasure have built and sustained a precarious fragility to our sense of place and belonging in an increasingly fractured world. Born into an immigrant family, (parents arriving to the United States from Trinidad in the mid 1950's) Branker's lived experience is a potent anchor for the album's ambition, and an agile foundation for the inquiry of his insightful musicality.
Rallying around vocalist and spoken word artist Alison Crockett, the album opens with "The Door of No Return," a composition inspired by the horrific slave trade that passed through Senegal's Gorée Island. Separated by four sub-movements, the composition's tale finds guitarist Pete McCann channeling Jimi Hendrix, as horn refrains by Philip Dizack, Remy Le Boeuf, and Walter Smith III harmonize beneath Crockett's ingenious interpretation of poetry composed by Brazilian writer Beatriz Esmer. Sundown Town's melancholy centers around the paradox Branker applies to the curious expectations of conventional listening. Elegant but somber harmonies and melodic lines speak to the white supremacist practice of banishing people of color from certain townships by sundown, while improvisations by pianist Fabian Almazan and trumpeter Philip Dizack color the song's elusive theme of self-determination.
"I, Too, Sing America" is based on Langston Hughes' poem "I, Too" that was first published in The Weary Blues in 1926. Here it takes on an entirely different dimension as Crockett and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III breathe new fire into this legendary anthem. Insistent and angular, Indivisible is a voltaic mosaic showcasing the ways Branker's septet can seemingly speak all at once while collectively making space to support solos by unique artists like McCann and alto saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf. Inspired by the novelty of this elegant phrase, "We Went Where the Wind Took Us," is a capricious tune with exquisite solos by Almazan and bassist Linda May Han Oh.
Punctuated by turbulence, "What Place Can Be For Us?" demands the band's full attention before settling in with solos by Dizack, Smith and drummer Donald Edwards over an edgy funk groove. Inspired by 'Get Out,' Jordan Peele's benevolent horror film on racism, "Sunken Place" speaks to the systemic marginalization of people of color and women. Thematically aligned, the tension of the melody is initially displaced but then brilliantly reconstructed over several instrument registers over the course of the composition. Bound to the spiritual arc that ancestors play in all forms of struggle, "The Trail of Tears to Standing Rock" speaks to the infamous legacy of the genocidal treatment of Indigenous Americans. Dizack shines on the track, navigating the emotional terrain with a gorgeous solo that elegantly captures the sanctity of the composition.
Sticking with complex melodic lines, Branker uses "Sanctuary City" to examine the refuge extended to undocumented immigrants seeking protection from violence, poverty and xenophobia. Drummer Donald Edwards paces "Placeless," a fascinating amalgamation of mastery that points to Branker's love of fusing hard bop with the freer aspects of collective composition. As a nod to the band, and perhaps even a thank you, "Placeless" also demonstrates the high level of mastery required to play Branker's music with such fluidity and conviction.
Deconstructing the world in this manner is like taking a hammer to a house of mirrors. Branker constantly reminds us that while we might not like what we see, there's always room for change, and always strength in answering questions with songs you can hum, dance to, and reorient your world view around. Such explorations require faith in the resilience of beauty—a hinge that swings freely within the glorious music of What Place Can Be For Us? A Suite in Ten Movements.
Profound answers to important questions require music that distills rigor, purpose and story into a renewed sense of place. Anthony Branker's place in Jazz has been consistently building unique architectures that speak to the cultural reparation of allowing this art form to thrive as protest music. What Place Can Be For Us? A Suite in Ten Movements is much more than just another stunningly good album from a vastly under-recognized artist; it's music that seeps into the pores of your consciousness, music that rightfully hurts before its beauty and rectitude fortifies a new agenda for your heart.

Anthony Branker is an American composer and conductor who is releasing his eighth album on the Origin Records label. He is certainly one of the most important current American composers, and this work makes us question the fundamental issues of inclusion and belonging, as well as the circumstances of exploitation and the zones of refuge experienced by people of African origin.
There is a real intellectual commitment in which the music is the filament on which this masterpiece is laid. It is rare for me to be impressed by an album to this extent, here all the conditions are met, both the intellectual pretext and the musical proposal served by excellent artists: WALTER SMITH III - TENOR SAXOPHONE, PHILIP DIZACK - TRUMPET, REMY LE BOEUF - ALTO & SOPRANO SAXOPHONES, PETE MCCANN - GUITAR, FABIAN ALMAZAN - PIANO, LINDA MAY HAN OH - DOUBLE & ELECTRIC BASS, DONALD EDWARDS - DRUMS, ALISON CROCKETT - VOCALS & SPOKEN WORD, ANTHONY BRANKER - COMPOSER & MUSICAL DIRECTOR.
The voice of Alison Crockett, perfectly placed, touches us with an emotional sincerity, we swallow each of her words that put our little feverish brains into action, a talent like this cannot be invented. Anthony Branker's compositions are luxuriously packaged in both classical and jazz forms, blending and intermingling to the point of no longer knowing what planet we are on, except for that of an exceptional composer, in front of whom one can feel small, due to the grandeur of his work. Musical beauty in the service of thought, or perhaps the reverse, the composer clearly loves instruments, knows how to perfectly showcase them, and uses them to prolong the reflections that Alison Crockett's voice gives us. We come out of this musical proposal, like a play, with images in our heads and deep questions about the propositions that are made to us.
It would be wonderful to see this work on stage, to enjoy the reality of this wonderful gift that Anthony Branker gives us. I would like to thank Mr. Anthony Branker without whom we could not have made this review. The teams of Paris-Move and Bayou Blue Radio placed the "indispensable" sticker on the cover, without a word, completely impressed by this album.

Donald Edwards - Drums
Fabian Almazan - Piano
Remy Le Boeuf - Saxophone
Alison Crockett - Vocals
Walter Smith III - Tenor Saxophone
Linda May Han Oh - Bass
Philip Dizack - Trumpet
Pete McCann - Guitar

1. The Door of No Return (08:53)
2. Sundown Town (07:21)
3. I, Too, Sing America (04:04)
4. Indivisible (06:04)
5. We Went Where the Wind Took Us (04:47)
6. What Place Can Be for Us? (08:30)
7. Sunken Place (04:43)
8. The Trail of Tears to Standing Rock (06:03)
9. Sanctuary City (05:42)
10. Placeless (05:45)

wydano: 2023-05
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Origin Records (USA)
Anthony Branker & Imagine
What Place Can Be for Us? - A Suite in Ten Movements
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