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Interviews

Ambrose Akinmusire: Emerging Heart

By Published: April 4, 2011
"The generation that's coming up under us is actually starting to question what they're being taught. And I think that's the first step in changing anything, especially changing jazz," says Akinmusire. "I think it's definitely changing. One of my dreams is, I hope when I'm 80 I can go to a jam session and sit down and have everybody sound like themselves. To be on the edge of my seat anticipating what the next person is going to sound like, as opposed to every pianist sounding like Herbie and Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
b.1970
piano
, every drummer sounding like Tain (Jeff "Tain" Watts
Jeff
Jeff "Tain" Watts
b.1960
drums
), every alto player sounding like Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
b.1960
sax, alto
, every tenor player sounding like Mark Turner
Mark Turner
Mark Turner
b.1965
sax, tenor
and Coltrane. I don't want to hear that. ... Or at least be able to say, 'I remember when it was just starting to change. I remember having some effect on that.' That's my dream."

Akinmusire isn't blowing smoke. "I know exactly what I want to change it to: Everybody to feel comfortable expressing themselves. That's it. That's the only thing that needs to happen for the music to change. I just want everybody to be themselves—I don't want them to be anybody else—figure themselves out and express that musically. That's it." Mid-thought, he chuckles at the notion, aware it's easier said than done, aware that it's a precarious goal.

When the Heart Emerges Glistening is clearly part of the process on that journey for individuality and discovery. The title, he said, "is talking about being present and invested and honest, not just in music but in everything you do—bringing that to the forefront and being comfortable in that. ... Everybody wants to be perfect: 'I know everything. I'm beautiful.' No. Nobody's perfect. We all have bad sides to us. Every day you should be trying to be a better person, and if you're not being honest with yourself, you can't really become a better person. The 'glistening' part is related to that. You glisten, because it's fresh—like a heart. If you were to take your heart out, it would be glistening because you had just taken it out. That's more related to living in the moment. ... It's about inhabiting every part of yourself, wholly—bringing that to the forefront, as opposed to pretending you're something you're not, or neglecting other parts of yourself."

The band on the remarkable CD includes Akinmusire's musical soul mate, saxophonist Walter Smith III
Walter Smith III
Walter Smith III
b.1980
sax, tenor
, as well as pianist Gerald Clayton, Justin Brown on drums and Harish Raghavan on bass. "I'm lucky to have a band, a real band. We've known each other for so long. We were playing with each other before Blue Note, and would be playing with each other even if there was no Blue Note. I'm lucky to be in this position, to be around musicians who really believe in developing." The selection of Moran, himself a highly creative musician, is also significant.

Says Akinmusire, "Jason's been an inspiration to me since I've been in high school. I've had the opportunity to play with him a few times. He's someone I turn to when I need advice career-wise and musically. Him being there, just his energy and his presence, helped a lot of people to be comfortable with the music in the studio—which is an environment that I find it hard to really play in. I know a lot of my peers feel the same way. Jason is someone who is always is hitting at 100 percent in the studio, no matter where he is. Just having him around helped bring that vibe onto the album."

Akinmusire was contacted in 2009 by Blue Note's Bruce Lundvall and had about a year to develop the project before recording in the fall of 2010. He wrote a lot of music in that time, but settled on a precise idea of what to bring to the studio. "Everything that's on the CD is what we recorded. There are no tunes that didn't make the album," he says. "The first two days we recorded with everybody isolated. On the last day we just went in there and played, everybody in the same room. Some of the takes, like 'The Walls of Lechuguilla,' and the duo stuff with Gerald and I, 'What's New' and 'Regret,' those are in the same room, no edits."


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