Where he leads, they gleefully follow.
Anthony Branker and Imagine present Beauty Within
(Origin Records, 2016), an engaging set of all-original
Branker is composer and musical director. The
Imagine musicians are Ralph Bowen, tenor and soprano
saxophones; Pete McCann, guitar; Fabian Almazan, piano;
Linda Oh, double bass; Rudy Royston, drums.
it alone to introduce the title song. The nearly two minute
solo shows the bassist’s dexterity. A little stick work from
Royston cues the band. The song has a haunting, enchanting
mood, whether Bowen or Almazan has the lead. Royston, rather
than keep a steady beat, mixes rolls with independent
strikes, deftly shifting from cymbals to toms and back. The
melody is a duet between tenor sax and guitar. Entering the
final phase, Bowen stretches out, bringing more energy and
“Many Roads Beneath the Sky” is an epic
display of musicianship. It begins in tranquil, haunting
fashion. The group quickly warms up behind the tenor. Then a
downshift, where Oh takes point, aided subtly by Almazan and
Royston. The tenor returns after an upshift, and things
rapidly heat up. McCann then cuts loose, freely exploring
the range of his instrument. Short phrases, long phrases,
rapid-fire sequences. Bowen comes back in for the
Branker is an Origin Records artist who
leads three groups: Imagine, World Play and Ascent. He was
named Down Beat magazine’s 62nd and 63rd annual
Critics Poll as a Rising Star Composer in 2014 and 2015.
Beauty Within highlights not only Brankers’
compositional skills but also his effectiveness as a leader.
Each song exhibits the strength of the group as well as the
expertise of the soloists.