Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review of Ambrose Akinmusire “When the Heart Emerges Glistening”


At the tender age of twenty-nine, trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire, has garnered a plethora of accolades and acknowledgements this year for his recent work. He captured both trumpet of the year and best "up and coming new artist" of the year at the Jazz Journalist Association 2011 awards and has been lauded in articles in Downbeat and the New York Times to mention just a few. His latest release is titled 
“ When the Heart Emerges Glistening” , his first for the venerable Blue Note label. You would be hard pressed to find a record that was so aptly titled, for Mr. Akinmusire’s musical heart has surely emerged radiant and glistening on this one. This is a daring, challenging and musically provocative collection of songs, all compositions but one were written by Mr. Akinmusire.  The single exception is the 1939 Johnny Burke and Bob Haggert song “What’s New”, which Mr. Akinmusire plays as a duet with his pianist Mr. Clayton. A tribute of sorts to an idol, the late trumpet player Clifford Brown. Even here, Clayton and Akinmusire seem to include the standard as a testament to their thorough knowledge of the tradition. In doing so they inject new life into the well worn composition. It's like they're saying " we can play this but here is what we think about how it should be played today."  

Part of Mr. Akinmusire’s success stems from his notion of the primacy of the band over the individual performer as the ultimate entity capable of producing his musical message.To that end he has assembled an complimentary group of talented musicians, most part of his working band, for this album. The pianist Gerald Clayton, the bassist Harish Raghavan and the drummer Justin Brown add immeasurably to the total package. Perhaps the most symbiotic relationship is with the talented saxophonist Walter Smith III with whom he shares the front line. To paraphrase Mr. Akinmsuire, the two men often finish each other’s phrases and intuitively know precisely where each other is heading.This special interplay is apparent and on full display on tunes like 
“Confessions to My Unborn Daughter” or “ Jaya” where they intertwine beautifully, conversing in high register squeals and slurs, always melding their sounds seamlessly when they return to playing in unison.

IIIHarish Raghavan’s facile bass is featured on the short intro to the hypnotic “Henya”. This composition is destined to become a jazz classic as it has already hauntingly appeared on Walter Smith” III’s “III” 

 and Gretchen Parlatto’s 
 The Lost and Found

both fine outings, each artist offering their own special interpretation. On his own version, Mr. Akinmusire plays the celesta with its chime like “heavenly” sound. He overdubs himself on trumpet, creating emotionally charged phrasing interspersed with some of the most unusual and creative use of slurs that I have heard on the instrument in some time. Mr. Akinmusire has a unique vision of what he wants his music to sound like and is certainly stretching the boundaries of his instrument to achieve that vision.

On “With Love” Mr. Brown’s drums are used to create the weaving percussive patterns that move the song along so beautifully. Mr. Smith’s tenor solo is particularly lyrical as is Mr. Cleaver’s probing piano musings.

On “Regret (No More)” , a high point of the album, Mr. Clayton plays a heart wrenching duet with Mr. Akinmusire, whose delicately played solo jumps with an impressive intervallic slur that is perfectly controlled and has the emotional impact of a desperate human cry.

“Ayneh (Cora)” is one of two interludes, the other being the finale 
"Ayneh ( Campbell) " that are dedicated to Mr. Akinmusire’s mother. They are musical plays on the song “Henya” with the name cleverly spelled backwards to indicate their musical affinity.

“My Name Is Oscar” is a spoken poem of sorts, with Akinmusire’s voice recorded over the rhythmic drumming of Brown. The song commemorates the life of Oscar Grant a young man who was shot to death in Oakland by a transit official. Not a protest, more of an affirmation of the man’s existence and a realization that this could have happened to any of us.

“The Walls of Lechuguilla” is the result of Akinmusire’s watching a show on television about the New Mexcian caves of Lechuguilla and their hidden beauty. It is a free piece with the trumpeter playing what sounds like what one might hear as echoes in the caves, eventually leading into a free form jaunt by the band.
The Caves of Lechuguilla
On “Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto” we find the pianist and fellow Manhattan School of Music alumni Jason Moran, playing piano. His solo is brooding and reverential with flourishes of classical undertones. Moran is credited as co-producer of this album with Akinmusire. Despite Moran’s influence, this album is clearly Akinmusire’s vision.

As Akinmusire relates, at the age of nineteen he was challenged by the saxophonist Steve Coleman as to how he wanted his music to be perceived.  For the last ten years Mr. Akinmusire has made a concerted effort to extricate himself from all influences and conventions that might compromise his musical vision. If his efforts on " When the Heart Emerges Glistening"   is any indication he is well on his way to acheiving that quest.

Ambrose Akinmusire , trumpet and compositions; Walter Smith III, saxophones; Gerald Clayton, piano; Harish Raghavan, bass; Justin Brown, drums; Jason Moran, producer and piano on “Tear Stained Suicide Manifeto”.

Tracks: Confessions to My Unborn Daughter; Jaya;  Henya Bass Intro; Henya; Far But Few Between; With Love; Regret ( No More); Ayneh ( Cora);
My Name is Oscar; The Walls of Lechugilla; What’s New; Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto; Ayneh (Campbell).

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