Ambrose Akinmusire – on the tender spot of every calloused moment


Title: on the tender spot of every calloused moment 
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire 
Label: Blue Note 
Formats: CD, Digital, LP  
Release date: June 5, 2020 


Trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire is known for extending the margins of jazz, presenting sonically diverse albums that reflect upon the complexity of Black life in America. Such was the case with his 2018 release, Origami Harvest, which deftly wove together genres and socially conscious themes. Akinmusire describes his new release, on the tender spot of every calloused moment, as a quartet album “that studies the blues in a contemporary context.” Though primarily a jazz musician, Akinmusire adeptly taps into the blues of life in America, blowing through his trumpet with “the breath of a black man who’s seen the best and worst of the country.” Accompanying Akinmusire on this project, which features eleven of his highly original compositions, are his long-time bandmates: pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown. 

Opening with a burst of improvisation, “Tide of Hyacinth” showcases each member of the quartet, paving the way for the entrance of Cuban-born percussionist and vocalist Jesus Diaz, who sings and chants in Yoruba. Akinmusire added the lyrics as a way to draw connections to the African diaspora and celebrate his own Nigerian heritage. On “Mr. Roscoe (consider the simultaneous),” Akinmusire pays homage to Roscoe Mitchell, co-founder of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and proponent of avant-garde jazz. Vocalist Genevieve Artadi is featured on “Cynical sideliners,” singing in a whispering voice, “You are you and they are they / You’ll be brave and they’ll be safe.” Accompanied only by Akinmusire, who switches to keyboard on this track, the highly melodic work seems to mock those who watch from the sidelines and fail to engage.  

Both “reset (quiet victories&celebrated defeat)” and the short unaccompanied solo “4623” showcase the full range of Akinmusire’s trumpet technique, phrasing, and emotional depth. The experimental and free form opening half of “Blues (we measure the heart with a fist)” gives way to an uptempo exploration of the juncture between jazz and blues, with the bass and trumpet bending notes as they weave between and outside of the genres. Akinmusire returns to his Rhodes for the concluding track, “Hooded procession (read the names aloud),” a slow progression of lush chords like the tolling of bells that gradually increase in tempo and pitch before dissolving into a burst of light. 

With his new release, on the tender spot of every calloused moment, Akinmusire once again presents a densely packed exploration of sonic, genre, and cultural boundaries.  

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss