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Ambrose Akinmusire: Emerging Heart

By Published: April 4, 2011
"Confessions to My Unborn Daughter" is an interesting, melodic, way to jump into the CD, with Akinmusire and Smith weaving lines adroitly over the rhythm. Smith takes one of many attractive, serpentine solos, building tension as he goes. Akinmusire's trumpet opens by careening off the edges of his composition, then moving toward its center before skittering off. The composition becomes majestic. The musical dialogue among the group is compelling, and it holds that way throughout the whole recording, whether it's the entire band or just trumpet and piano. Tunes flow into one another. Moods shift. Ethereal sections give way to edgier examinations. Clayton gets to exhibit his luscious touch and fertile ideas. The rhythm of Brown and Raghavan is supportive and flexible. Akinmusire is fiery and never predictable. Forceful, probing, soaring. At times gentle as a kitten. Piano-trumpet duets are gorgeous and entrancing.

Particularly gripping is how Smith and Akinmusire meld. The rapport goes way back. They've played together for years, from the Manhattan School of Music and then on to the Monk Institute. Akinmusire is part of Smith's new CD, III (Criss Cross Jazz, 2011). "Everybody says 'right-hand man,' but I would go even further to say he's a part of me, and I think I'm a part of him," says Akinmusire. "It's unbelievable when we're playing music. We don't even have musical conversations. We don't discuss anything about concepts or anything like that. We just hang out with each other. When we play, there's always magic happening. I always look forward to sharing the bandstand with him."

One of the goals the trumpeter had in mind was: "I wanted it to be raw—as is. So there's some missed notes and a lot of rawness." He explains, "I feel like I missed that from back in the day. Living in the moment is what has been lost in jazz and even in pop. I miss that, so I wanted to capture that on this album." From writing songs to organizing in the studio, Akinmusire keeps his eyes ahead, but not on one fixed bull's- eye. There is a focus, but an openness. "I don't feel like I have a composing style, but I do have a concept. It's not really formed yet, but my intentions are to capture a mood and then allow it to live. By that, I mean I want every time we approach it to be different. If we play it in January and don't touch it until December, I want it to have grown in those 11 months."

He explains, "I bring in parts to the people in the band. I try not to tell them exactly what to do. I find when people do that, the musicians feel limited and stick to that. They don't allow it to grow. I'll say, 'This is the chart. It's kind of like this.' Then I'll immediately say something to contradict what I just said. 'It's kind of a swing-type thing, but straight also.' Just to give them a sense of where I'm coming from. ... I believe that composition—music in general—shouldn't be exact. It shouldn't be straight up and down. It should be a circle. That's the way nature is. When you look at a tree, it doesn't go, 'click click click.' It sways around. I try to capture that in my music. I also try to have silence in every piece that I write—a space for me and the listener to inhabit. ... I always try to write in rests, or just a moment, where there's no melody, nothing happening—just an exhale.

"I try to play like I'm having a conversation. Nobody wants to listen to someone who doesn't listen," he says with a chuckle. "I'm not a great orator. I have to be communicating with somebody. It has to be back and forth. When I'm playing, I'm listening to every part of the drum set, the octaves that the bassist is playing—how staccato his notes are, the voicings the pianist is playing. I can't really do that if I'm just there playing a bunch of eighth notes on every solo. Inherently, there are spaces in my playing. ... Also, I try to be mindful that everything I do has a negative. I can sound like the most articulate trumpet player, like a classical trumpet player. But at the other side, I want to be able to sound like a beginning trumpet player. I want to be able to sound like I can't play. I'm thinking of that spectrum. That's just the way I live life. Everything you do has an opposite, and I don't prefer one over the other."

It's hard for Akinmusire to talk about his influences on trumpet. He's done his homework—tons of it. He knows the noble lineage of his instrument and draws inspiration from many spots along that path.

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