Ted Brancato – The Next Step – Origin Records

Ted Brancato – The Next Step – Origin Records 82649, 69:22 [9/17/13] ****:

(Ted Brancato – piano & keyboards; Ron Carter – bass; Terry Silverlight – drums; Matt Langley – saxophone; Mayra Casales – percussion; Woody Allen – acoustic, electric guitars; Carri Coltrane – acoustic guitar; Chris Amelar – electric guitar; Cliff Schmitt – electric bass; Vinnie Cutro – trumpet; Ben Williams – trombone)

Growing up in Seattle (an under-appreciated jazz city), Ted Brancato became a regular performer with musicians passing through the Emerald City. This included Milt Jackson, Eddie Jefferson, Ernie Watts and Ernestine Anderson. An inevitable relocation to New York (sparked by collaboration with vocalist Gene McDaniels) helped to establish Brancato as an arranger, composer, accompanist and performer. He has recorded with a variety of jazz artists including Joey DeFrancesco, Lewis Nash, Ron Carter and Teri Lyne Carrington. He has toured the world as musical director for Jeanie Bryson. This led to work with Christian McBride, Jerry Niewood, Pacquito D’Rivera, Claudio Roditi and Wallace Roney. In 2009, Brancato fulfilled a long-time dream and built his own recording studio. In 2013, he began his recording career as a solo artist.

Brancato’s debut on Origin records, The Next Step is a blend of jazz, fusion and soul.  Consisting of fourteen original compositions, the music showcases the versatility of his musical styles. The opening track (“Kinshasa”) kicks off with a vampy bass line by veteran Ron Carter. Matt Langley adds shading on soprano saxophone. Brancato’s initial solo is fluid and leads seamlessly into tempo breaks. There is a funky undercurrent to the jam. Changing pace considerably, “Prayer” has a mournful grace with a subtle counter pulse. Brancato’s piano lines are expressive and seem to capture a hymnal ambiance. The title cut is sophisticated and soulful, with Langley contributing a muscular tenor.

There are various transitions but the overall flow is consistent. “Captain Nasty” is just that, with a head-bopping, crisp downbeat. Carter unleashes a masterful extended solo. The ensemble has considerable chemistry and drummer Terry Silverlight sparkles on his featured solo. Brancato has the articulation of great pianists like Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck on his waltz-time opus, “I Don’t Want To Fall”. Another tune, “…Love You…” explores this dynamic with atmospheric nuances. But the album embraces fusion/soul with percussive grooves on “It’s The Little Things”. An inherent sense of melody envelops the core of the music. “I Hear You” is lyrical and delicate. Brancato and Carter exhibit flawless interplay.

Not everything is predictable. “It’s About Time” is a polyrhythmic romp, featuring Caribbean-infused percussion. Certainly there is accessibility to the well-crafted material. However, the quality of the musicianship elevates it beyond the overused contemporary jazz label. The Next Step is an auspicious and welcome debut!

TrackList: Kinshasa; Prayer; The Next Step; The Road That Leads Us Home; Captain Nasty; I Don’t Want To Fall; Child Inside My Heart; It’s The Little Things; Another Chance; I Hear You; Karate Kid; …Love You…; It’s About Time; You Know

—Robbie Gerson

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