On the provocatively titled "Uppity," Anthony Branker's second CD with his all-star sextet Word Play, the prolific composer and bandleader harnesses his vibrant jazz originals and his band's dynamic interplay to deliver a bracing social and spiritual message. "Uppity" will be released by Origin Records today, March 19.
His "Ballad for Trayvon Martin," one of the album's emotional centerpieces, honors not only the 17-year-old who was slain in 2012 because of "what he looked like," but victims of racial violence who came before.
"While the music on 'Uppity' addresses, out of necessity, such themes as intolerance, hate, and prejudice," writes Branker in his booklet notes, "it also serves to remind us of the power and resiliency of the human spirit when we keep the notions of 'hope' and 'healing' at the center of our lives."
Branker, the founder and director of the Program in Jazz Studies and associate director of the Program in Musical Performance, both at Princeton University, has in recent years been composing for and recording with two different although similar handpicked ensembles. With Ascent, he's recorded four albums, most recently "Together" (Origin, 2012). Prior to "Uppity," he made the 2011 Origin CD "Dialogic" with Word Play.
Tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen and bassist Kenny Davis, whom Branker first heard when they were with OTB (Out of the Blue) in the late 1980s, are members of both groups. Completing the Word Play lineup are trumpeter and flugelhornist Eli Asher (of the Respect Sextet); trombonist and keyboardist Andy Hunter, who also performs with Germany's WDR Big Band; "monster pianist" Jim Ridl; and Mingus big band drummer Donald Edwards, who "plays with such incredible commitment to groove."