April 4th, 2011
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire
Label: Blue Note
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Jazz trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire’s When the Heart Emerges Glistening demonstrates the 28-year-old’s musical maturity as a composer and performer in its careful balance of youthful energy and seasoned reflection. Akinmusire is joined by Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums.
The first track on the album, “Confession To My Unborn Daughter,” is representative of the range of styles that Akinmusire weaves into his compositions. The first forty seconds of the track belong to Akinmusire’s trumpet alone as he explores varied musical thoughts without any hint of self-consciousness. Gradually the fragments begin to take shape and the musical line builds momentum. The trumpet then pulls back to a more pensive tone and draws a few spacious chords from the piano before a cymbal crash dramatically pulls the group together and drives the music forward. A gripping melodic exchange between Akinmusire and Smith showcases the composer’s skill in crafting sensitive and beautiful melodies. Akinmusire does not lose himself in sentiment, however; as he and Smith trade solos, the melody morphs into a different creature entirely, one characterized by raw, frantic energy. The remainder of the track alternates between reflective duets and screaming solo lines as the quintet converses with and pushes against each other, finally fading out with rolled reminders of the first chords we heard from the piano at the beginning of the track. Jason Moran’s production work should also be recognized on this track. Listeners will want to spend some time with headphones on to follow Akinmusire and Smith as they chase each other from channel to channel and Akinmusire’s scales climb and fall from ear to ear.
The listener is again rewarded by Akinmusire’s skill as a melodist in the seventh track, “Regret (No More).” The mournful vocal quality of Akinmusire’s trumpet floats over Clayton’s gently rippling piano in hauntingly expressive lines. In the next brief track, “Ayneh (Cora)” we hear more of the breadth that Akinmusire brings to the album. The trumpeter trades his horn for a celeste this time, and again collaborates with Clayton on piano. Ten of the twelve tracks on this album are original compositions by Akinmusire (track two, “Jaya” is written by bassist Raghavan, and track eleven is the standard “What’s New” by Bob Haggart and Johnny Burke). As an album, they display the many dimensions of Akinmusire’s skill as a musician.
Akinmusire is not a player who isolates himself in the studio, however. In track nine, “My Name is Oscar,” he exercises his storytelling ability and affirms his connection to his native Oakland, California, in a musical response to the police shooting of a young African American, Oscar Grant, in the early hours of the new year in 2009. Although it was inspired by tragic violence, the piece does not show any sense of anger. Instead, Akinmusire’s spoken text fragments, most notably the repetition of the title phrase, assert the dead man’s humanity. Here again Akinmusire and producer Moran have made a striking recording decision; subtle distortion and added reverb give the trumpeter’s voice an unsettling quality, particularly toward the end of the track, while Justin Brown’s drums are the sole accompaniment.
Listeners will find in When the Heart Emerges Glistening a sound that is at once fresh and familiar, a music that is rooted in but not constrained by jazz tradition. Akinmusire and his collaborators display a remarkable depth of musicianship that affirms the continued vitality of jazz writing and playing.
Reviewed by Paul E. Killinger
Review Genre(s): Jazz