Spirit Songs

Anthony Branker & Ascent


March 2, 2021


In the spirit of Oliver Nelson and Duke Ellington, composer Anthony Branker conducts an all-star band in a program of his infectious songs blending culturally diverse musical styles with modal jazz harmony.

Displaying a unique sense of lyricism and rhythmic groove, Branker brings together Brazilian, Cuban, African, and Jamaican music with a variety of jazz influences. Featuring performance by some of the most gifted jazz artists working today, Spirit Songs will uplift and touch every listener.


01 Chant For Peace Eternal (7:07)
02 Parris In April (8:30)
03 Spirit Song (7:28)
04 Sketches of Selim (7:19)
05 Imani (Faith) (6:45)
06 In God's Hands (6:00)
07 Mentor (8:04)
08 J.C.'s Passion (7:57)


Anthony BRANKER, composer & bandleader

Clifford ADAMS, trombone
Ralph BOWEN, saxophones
Antonio HART, saxophones
Jonny KING, piano
Ralph PETERSON, drums
John BENITEZ, bass


There are certain individuals in this world who by virtue of their talent, inspiration, energy and insight are capable of touching and enriching our lives. Anthony Branker is one of those people. Whether it’s the sound of his beautiful and fluid trumpet/flugelhorn playing, or conducting one of Princeton University’s many jazz groups; whether teaching a class or giving a lecture or creating a new jazz composition, Tony Branker’s deep personal spirituality and passion always shines and resonates through.

The CD Spirit Songs is a collection of some of Branker’s finest works. The eight pieces, written between 1997 and 2004, reflect his lyrical and melodic gifts as well as an abiding fascination with diverse rhythmic frameworks. Brazilian, Cuban, African and Jamaican (sister island to the Branker’s Trinidadian and Barbadian family roots) grooves infuse each piece with distinct character and feel, providing each of the soloists with a platform to create improvisations that leap out at you with their energy, mood, and incisiveness.

Highlights abound everywhere in this wonderful CD: Ralph Bowen’s fiery and harmonically rich solo on “Chant For Peace Eternal” and Jonny King’s beautiful lines as the song fades away; Antonio Hart’s relaxed but thoughtful solo on the bossa tinged “Parris in April,” written for Tony’s daughter. Also check out Bowen’s solo on “Parris” — his entrance and his solo’s end are mirror images. Take note of Ralph Peterson’s drum work on the hot and infectious “Spirit Song,” especiallyhis shifts in accent and intensity; meanwhile Hart’s solo builds in passion during the band’s background playing (check out the grooves of bassist John Benitez on this track and throughout the entire CD!). Follow the beauty and imagination of Branker’s “Sketches of Selim” (written in tribute to longtime inspiration Miles Davis), where each melodic section has its own idea and where the collective jam at the end provides unity and interaction. Dance along with the reggae shuffle feel of “Imani (Faith)” — I certainly did! And take note of Clifford Adams’ work here: his solo breathes life and vitality, telling the story as only he can. Then check out the way in which Jonny King’s solo emerges with inspiration and fire from Cliff’s! Note the reflective beauty of “In God’s Hands,” where Ralph Bowen’s soprano sax is at once distant and mournful, yet reverential and pure. “Mentor” is fire personified, intense and alive. Peterson underpins it all with a contagious groove and clearly defined hits, mixing it all up at the end with a beautiful drum solo. Bowen’s tenor solo is fleet and multi-colored, and the trombone solo is a classic Clifford Adams projection, building slowly and then letting loose. Each Branker piece holds a different set of compositional surprises and rewards, from background horn lines to group jams to rich and redolent harmonic frameworks for blowing. By the time we reach “J.C.’s Passion,” a Branker variation on “So What” and “Impressions,” even more delights await us. King opens it up with a hard-swinging solo and everyone else follows with spirited and expressive contributions — it’s a beautiful way to bring this wonderful recording to an end.

Anthony Branker has created a gemstone of a CD in Spirit Songs. His imagination and spirit give strength, character and vitality to each composition, allowing his rich and personal art to take shape and to delight and enrich us. I eagerly await his next effort (with his trumpet playing on board, I hope) and I am proud to call this exceptional man and artist a creative brother and lifelong friend.

— Laurie Altman
Assistant Professor of Composition
Westminster Choir College of Rider University

Spirit Songs is a project that has been very important to me for a number of reasons. It is simple in its intent — to celebrate life and touch the soul. It is also my opportunity to thank God for guiding me, comforting me, and providing for me.

There is something indescribable that resides within each and every one of us that serves to inspire, strengthen, and uplift. It is a force capable of taking us to places our consciousness could not begin to contemplate. I like to believe that this ‘thing’ is the spirit of life. For some, ‘being spiritual’ can simply be viewed as that attempt to connect with a higher power, a life force, or even to our own inner soul; however, it can also be a characteristic of the way we experience the world and live our lives.

I thank my parents, Joan and Daniel Branker, for all of the spiritual lessons and guidance they provided me with throughout my life. The compositions “Imani (Faith)” and “In God’s Hands” were written for my mom and late father and underscore the most important lesson they could have ever taught me – ‘Always Put Your Trust and Faith in God.’

I hope you enjoy this musical offering and that the performances of these wonderful musicians will uplift and touch your soul in some way.

— Anthony Branker


"Eight attractive compositions, which range around the gentler, more spiritual side of the hard-bop mode.… The rapport is quite solid throughout these catchy pieces, thanks in part to the high comfort level provided by Branker's keen-eared sextet writing." [three stars]
— Indianapolis Star, March 2006

"As an arranger, he has the gift of letting ensemble lines and solo spots tell their separate, but nevertheless connected stories. …some insinuating rhythms that change the tack and meter, the album makes for some perky listening. Bringing it all upfront is Ascent, a band of adventurous players whose ideas ferment in both solo passages and group interaction."
— All About Jazz, February 2006

"…eight outstanding pieces …this is just as much a showcase for Branker’s writing, which sports a pronounced Messengers’ influence both in instrumentation and pace, as for the solo skills of the musicians."
— Nashville City Paper, February 2006