45 Trumpet Master Ambrose Akinmusire – Broad Vision

Ambrose Akinmusire

Known as a constantly searching and forward-looking musician, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire won the Thelonious Monk (now Herbie Hancock) International Jazz Competition in 2007 at 27 years old. His first disc, Prelude to Cora, announced a bright new talent willing to honor multiple strains of influences from hip-hop to classical with stops at post-bop, funk, and free jazz. His periodic highly-regarded solo efforts have been complemented by a string of excellent sideman collaborations. Recent work from exciting young trumpeter Ambrose Akimusire as we wrap up our four-part exploration of today’s trumpet masters in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

Vibraphonist Chris Dingman enlisted Akinmusire to contribute to his remarkable 2011 effort Waking Dreams. After vibraphonist Dingman and flutist Loren Stillman introduce the graceful theme of Nocturnal, Akinmusire adds additional depth to the contemplative piece with a tender contribution.

Soon after recording Waking Dreams, Akinmusire was back in the studio to lay down the tracks for his sophomore effort as a leader, When The Heart Emerges Glistening, his first recording for Blue Note, with his quintet of Walter Smith III on tenor, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums. On AllAboutJazz, Troy Collins writes, “The session exudes a hearty romanticism, with Akinmusire’s seasoned quintet delivering soulful melodies and rich harmonies that unflinchingly embrace the emotive fervor of free jazz. Blending sultry R&B motifs and driving hard bop riffs with tortuous post bop themes, their efforts are adventurous yet accessible, conveying bold expressionism tempered by dulcet beauty. The opener, Confessions To My Unborn Daughter, essays the quintet’s strengths. Akinmusire introduces the piece a cappella, with his band mates entering, one by one, until the tune reaches a fevered pitch.

In 2011, Akinmusire was key player in an outing led by veteran drummer and pianist Jack DeJohnette with an all-star cast of young players – Lionel Loueke on guitar, Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals, and Louisito Quintera on percussion. John Kelman wrote, “Salsa for Luisito is a highlight for the entire core sextet – Akinmusire soaring over a dance-ready groove, Spalding’s soft vocal improv meshing with a layered, three-part harmony vocal from the bassist, Quintero and DeJohnette, and the drummer laying down a piano track that makes clear his choice to keep the instrument secondary in his career has been just that: a choice.”

Nocturnal. Chris Dingman Sextet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Loren Stillman-sax, Fabian Almazan-p, Chris Dingman-vib, Joe Sanders-b, Justin Brown-d). From Waking Dreams. Between Words. 2011.
Confessions To My Unborn Daughter. Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Walter Smith III-ts, Gerald Clayton-p, Harish Raghavan-b, Justin Brown-d). From When The Heart Emerges Glistening. Blue Note. 2011.
Salsa for Luisito. Jack DeJohnette Quintet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Lionel Loueke-g, Esperanza Spalding-b/voc, Jack DeJohnette-d/p/voc, Louisito Quintera-per/voc). From Sound Travels. Entertainment One. 2012.

Akinmusire’s next release as a leader was 2014’s The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint with a sextet of Walter Smith III on tenor, Sam Harris on piano, Charles Altura on guitar, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums. The complex rhythms of Bubbles (John William Sublett) pay tribute to the father of “rhythm tap” – John W. Bubbles, dancer, actor, movie star and one of the first African Americans to appear on television.

Mid-2017, Akinmusire recorded a double disc at the legendary venue, The Village Vanguard – A Rift in Decorum. Mark Sullivan wrote, “Live recordings at the venerable Village Vanguard are immediately part of a storied tradition. Fully aware of the spirit of the place, trumpeter/composer Ambrose Akinmusire brought his longtime quartet with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown – but he took the unusual step of performing all new, original compositions … Akinmusire makes a strong impression here as trumpeter and band leader. His adventurous band is comfortable following wherever he leads, while also making notable contributions when given the spotlight.”

The following year, Akinmusire was back in the studio supporting guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel in a reprise of the band that produced 2016’s Rising Grace. The 2018 release Where the River Goes brings back Akinmusire plus Brad Mehldau on piano and Melhdau’s long-time trio-mate bassist Larry Genadier with the new addition of Eric Harland on drums. Mark Sullivan wrote, ”For Django is a dedication to the British composer/pianist (and tenor horn player) Django Bates, whose compositions have had a big impact on Muthspiel. So it seems appropriate that this gentle evocation is not a guitar feature, opening with piano and giving [Akinmusire’s] trumpet solo the main spotlight.”

Bubbles (John William Sublett). Ambrose Akinmusire Sextet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Walter Smith-ts, Sam Harris-p, Charles Altura-g, Harish Rahavan-b, Justin Brown-d). From The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint. Blue Note. 2014.
Response. Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Sam Harris-p, Harish Raghavan-b, Justin Brown-d). From A Rift in Decorum. Blue Note. 2017.
For Django. Wolfgang Muthspiel Quintet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Brad Mehldau-p, Wolfgang Muthspiel-g, Larry Grenadier-b, Eric Harland-d). From Where The River Goes. ECM. 2018.

In 2019, Blue Note Records assembled a sextet of its newest stars to “celebrate the label’s legacy and to affirm its present-day relevance.” The band included Akinmusire with Marcus Strickland on tenor, Robert Glasper on keys, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Derrick Hodge on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Additionally several selections included Blue Note veterans Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Akinmusire’s composition Henya is performed by a trio of the trumpeter with Glasper and Hodge on on piano and bass.

On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment, Akinmusire’s 2020 release and his fifth on Blue Note is a stripped down affair with a quartet including Sam Harris on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums. Chris May wrote on AllAboutJazz, “The sound is ECM-like in its monastic simplicity … And while substantial portions of The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (2014), A Rift In Decorum (2017) and Origami Harvest (2018) were passionate and eruptive, [this disc] is in the main understated and reflective … This time out, Akinmusire’s compositional focus is the blues, albeit expressed in a modern, abstract framework. It is the blues as a feeling rather than a format. The ambiance suggests an old-time blues musician playing quietly on his back porch after the sun has gone down. Like that ancestor would often have done, Akinmusire is musing on the experience of living as a black man in a society which (still) overwhelmingly favours white people … The most conventionally “bluesy” track on the album is Roy, Akinmusire’s lament for a friend, the late Roy Hargrove. ”

Henya. Blue Note All-Stars
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Robert Glasper-p, Derrick Hodge-b). From Our Point Of View. Blue Note. 2019.
Roy. Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Sam Harris-p, Harish Raghavan-b, Justin Brown-d). From On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment. Blue Note. 2020.
Moon (the return amplifies the unity). Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
(Ambrose Akinmusire-tp, Sam Harris-p, Harish Raghavan-b, Justin Brown-d). From On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment. Blue Note. 2020.

In the last hour of Jazz at 100 Today!, we featured Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah who is virtually the same age as Ambrose Akinmusire. At just under 40 years old, they both belong to generation of players who are comfortable bringing multiple musical influences to bear as they create a new hybrid, just the latest in a long series of adaptations such as keep the music fresh and relevant. With this we bring our look at some of today’s trumpet masters to a close.

Turner, Mark F. (2011, July 5). AllAboutJazz. Chris Dingman: Waking Dreams. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/waking-dreams-chris-dingman-between-worlds-music-review-by-mark-f-turner.php

Collins, Troy. (2011, April 4). AllAboutJazz. Ambrose Akinmusire: When The Heart Emerges Glistening. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/when-the-heart-emerges-glistening-ambrose-akinmusire-blue-note-records-review-by-troy-collins.php

Kelman, John. (2012, January 9). AllAboutJazz. Jack DeJohnette: Sound Travels. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/sound-travels-jack-dejohnette-eone-music-review-by-john-kelman.php

Turner, Mark F. (2014, March 11). AllAboutJazz. Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-imagined-savior-is-far-easier-to-paint-ambrose-akinmusire-blue-note-records-review-by-mark-f-turner.php

Sullivan, Mark. (2017, July 4). AllAboutJazz. Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift In Decorum: Live At The Village Vanguard. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/a-rift-in-decorum-live-at-the-village-vanguard-ambrose-akinmusire-blue-note-records-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

Sullivan, Mark. (2018, October 24). AllAboutJazz. Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where The River Goes. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/where-the-river-goes-wolfgang-muthspiel-ecm-records-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

May, Chris. (2019, December 10). AllAboutJazz. Blue Note All Stars: Our Point Of View. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/our-point-of-view-blue-note-all-stars-blue-note

May, Chris. (2020, July 15). AllAboutJazz. Ambrose Akinmusire: On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/on-the-tender-spot-of-every-calloused-moment-ambrose-akinmusire-blue-note-records

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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