Ambrose Akinmusire, The Imagined Savior…

Three years ago, Ambrose Akinmusire, 28, burst upon the scene as the most promising young jazz trumpeter since Dave Douglas. His debut album, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (on the Blue Note label), was hailed (and not just by me) as one of the best of 2011. His new CD, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (also out on Blue Note), is better.

His tone is similar to Douglas’s—melancholic, tending toward minor keys, but capable of uncorking brash, fast flourishes when they’re called for. (Both musicians cite Booker Little as an influence, and it shows; Akinmusire also lists Clifford Brown, while Douglas goes more for Miles Davis, and you can hear that in where they differ—the former a bit beefier, the latter, now 51, more poignant and subtle.)

Where Akinmusire (pronounced ack-in-MOO-sir-ee) has developed since his breakout is in the two-part horn harmonies: sophisticated, dark, letting in a shimmering ray of light as they take an unexpected turn. It helps that he and his partner in bloom, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, have been playing together since high school. They seemed clairvoyant three years ago; now they read each other’s minds while turning somersaults.

The rest of the quartet is also the same—Harish Raghavan on bass, Justin Brown on drums, and Sam Harris on piano (who replaced Gerald Clayton soon after the first album’s release)—and they’re all longtime friends, and ace musicians, too. On several tracks, the band expands to include a string quartet or guitar, but they don’t clutter the works. Akinmusire has said in interviews that his intent was to stretch a note or a chord in ways that only strings can, and that’s how they come off. They never melt into “jazz-with-strings” or some other sort of fusion. (A couple of songs also have singers, but they meld with the music as well.)

The sound, as before, is by Dave Darlington. The first album was tight and bracing. On this one, he lends a warm density to those harmonies—it’s a nice, big sound—while keeping the bass tight, the drums crisp, and the guest strings restrained as a tonic, like the composer intended.

Cto007's picture

IMHO, players like Ambrose, Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are incontrovertible evidence that Jazz is very much alive and kicking.

jimtavegia's picture

Great price off Amazon and ImportCDS.  Love buying physical media at a great price.  

Mike Rubin's picture

Akinmusire live is one of the most daring musicians I've ever seen.  With Smith and Brown particularly, Akinmusire, more than any other bandleader I have seen since, say, Pharoah Sanders in his early days, drove his combo to exceed its own grasp, fluffs and all.  A set was an hour long roller coaster ride.

Now, with this record, Akinmusire shows us he's "matured" even beyond what his past two releases showed.  This is a fine album, to be sure, but it's hemmed in.  Strings, a vocalist, adherence to "song" form...  And Akinmusire admits it, too:  In his Downbeat cover story, he says, pretty blatantly, that he's sworn off virtuosity.

I still am waiting for the album in which Akinmusire shows us that he's courageous and passionate.  On this album, he's competent, even engaging, but he's not courageous.  Out of all the musicians who I wanted to be that very thing, he's the guy.


EDIT:  Just listened to this again now.  I may have been a bit harsh in my initial impressions, although I stand by them as a whole. However, there definitely are some moments in which the players cut loose, particularly on "Memo," on which Justin Brown is just ridiculous.  

jimtavegia's picture

Maybe it will grow on me.  Seems to lack direction and cohesion. The Piano is well mic'd, but the trumpet no so much.