Ambrose Akinmusire: When The Heart Emerges Glistening (2011)
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A new generation of jazz musicians, unimpeded by the idiomatic constraints of tradition, has come of age since the end of the '80s-era culture wars. One such free-thinking artist is young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who was first discovered by saxophonist Steve Coleman at the tender age of 19. When The Heart Emerges Glistening is his first recording for Blue Note, following his 2008 debut, Prelude...To Cora (Fresh Sound New Talent).
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. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and Akinmusire alternate solos, shadowing each other's lines with an uncanny familiarity; their decade plus spent playing together is revealed in their simultaneous ascension into ravishingly beautiful cacophony.
While Akinmusire and Smith elevate the bandstand with their spirited interplay, the rhythm section of Gerald Clayton (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass) and Justin Brown (drums) fashions an endlessly shifting mosaic of tasteful accents, pulsating downbeats and clever harmonic interpolations. Expanding and contracting tempos and time signatures throughout the date, they ply fluid variations on traditional trio dynamics with ceaseless forward momentum.
After the rousing opener, the band tears through the similarly energetic "Jaya," before revealing a more introspective side. The ethereal "Henya" demonstrates the quintet's capacity for lush cinematic detail, with an effervescent guest spot from producer Jason Moran on Fender Rhodes. The remaining pieces veer between similar extremes, from the punchy swinger "Far But Few Between" and anthem-like "The Walls of Lechuguilla," to the simmering ballad "With Love" and the rhapsodic meditation "Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto." Only "My Name Is Oscar" falls short of expectationsa conceptually interesting drum duet/spoken word tribute to Oscar Grant that is well-intentioned, but emotionally detached. More successful is Akinmusire's duet with Clayton on the standard "What's New," which clarifies the trumpeter's position in the jazz continuum as a forward thinking individualist with deep roots in the tradition.
Bridging the divide between inside and outside aesthetics, Akinmusire's virtuosity encompasses numerous approaches, from poignant lyricism to abstract tonal manipulations. His ability to seamlessly integrate extended techniques into architecturally sound statements is one of the date's most compelling features, as he effortlessly bends, blurs and distorts notes between velvety consonance and bristling dissonance.
When The Heart Emerges Glistening is a significant statement from an up and coming artist whose impressive abilities as an improviser and composer suggest potential greatness in the future.
Track Listing: Confessions To My Unborn Daughter; Jaya; Henya Bass Intro; Henya; Far But Few Between; With Love; Regret (No More); Ayneh (Cora); My Name Is Oscar; The Walls of Lechuguilla; What's New; Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto; Ayneh (Campbell).
Personnel: Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (1-2, 4-7, 10-13) celeste (8), voice (9); Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone (1-2, 4, 6, 10, 12); Gerald Clayton: piano (1-2, 4, 6-8, 10-11, 13); Jason Moran: Fender Rhodes (4, 12); Harish Raghavan: bass (1-6, 10, 12); Justin Brown: drums (1-2, 4-6, 9, 10, 12).
Record Label: Blue Note Records