Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ambrose Akinmusire review - NYC Jazz Record

After a highly praised Blue Note debut, trumpeter 
Ambrose Akinmusire has returned with an album that 
maintains a kitchen-sink embrace of styles and 
textures. He penned all but one of the tunes, 
collaborating with a handful of vocalists and adding 
the explosive guitarist Charles Altura. But with a few 
exceptions, this is an unquestionably somber record. 

The driving “Memo (g. learson)” features brisk 
statements from tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III 
and Altura while jagged “Bubbles (john william 
sublett)” gives bassist Harish Raghavan ample space to 
tangle with pianist Sam Harris’ rapid-fire phrases over 
a hypnotic groundswell and drummer Justin Brown’s 
skittering funk. Elsewhere, haunting textures creep 
like fog. Vocalist Becca Stevens appears on her “Our 
Basement (ed)”. The sparse arrangement deals in 
silence with pulsating strings, heightening Stevens’ 
impassioned quaver. The same strings weave a nearly 
Celtic palette for “The Beauty of Dissolving Portraits”, 
allowing Akinmusire to sputter over a chamber group’s 
long tones. Vocalist Theo Bleckmann continues that 
misty backdrop, accompanied primarily by solo piano 
on “Asiam (joan)”, his multi-tracked vocals spinning 
spectral dust over the bare landscape.

“Rollcall for Those Absent” is Akinmusire’s most 
direct social statement. The tune features him glacially 
surveying on a Juno keyboard as a child recites the 
names of recent high-profile, unarmed murder victims 
like Amadou Diallo and Kendrec McDade. The 
repeated invocation of the names Trayvon Martin and 
Oscar Grant are particular reminders of the hostility 
young black men like Akinmusire can face without 
merit and without warning.

Not surprisingly, Akinmusire’s return exudes 
confidence. He has a way with intervallic leaps that are 
uniquely his and shows great patience in embracing 
the more languid instincts of his pen, the same one that 
seems to relish cryptic song titles. He can blow like 
nobody’s business but seems more intent on 
showcasing his way with emotion and instrumentation. 

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