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Ambrose Akinmusire: Painting Saviors

DanMichael Reyes By

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Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (pronounced ah-kin-MOO-sir-ee) is as imaginative as the sonic soundscapes he creates and as informative as the titles that he bestows on his songs. Ambrose Akinmusire's allure stems from the complexity of his albums; a complexity that requires the listener to fully participate and engage with the artist and ask questions as to who the characters are, what events are taking place, and the emotions that the composer is trying to convey. This type of intricacy is the one that jazz was once associated with, not the one that has left audiences complaining that the music is too hard to understand . While super human displays instruments are part of the audience's dalliance with jazz, the musical idiom that grew up in Storyville is far richer when a plot is driving it.

As a testament to his virtuosity on the horn, the trumpeter won the Thelonious Monk Competition and the Carmine Caruso Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition in 2007. Later that year, Akinmusire released his debut album as leader on Fresh Sounds, Prelude... To Cora. In 2011, the Oakland native shared his critically acclaimed sophomore album under Blue Note, When The Heart Emerges Glistening.

Recently, the 31-year old trumpeter released his second Blue Note album, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (2014). Akinmusire is joined by familiar faces like Walter Smith III on sax, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown. Charles Altura also lends his guitar on the record along with vocalists, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens, and singer-songwriter Cold Specks. The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint also includes collaborations with the OSSO String Quartet and flutist Elena Penderhuges.

The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (2014) isn't just about how killing the music sounds. While the playing on The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint is definitely dazzling, Ambrose Akinmusire's third album is a collection of stories, characters, and emotions written to give the listener more than an album of just technical flaunts.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on the new record. I had the chance to listen to it last week and it sounds amazing.

Ambrose Akinmusire: Thanks!

AAJ: You made a comment about how jazz was getting stagnant three years ago when you last spoke to us. A lot has happened since 2011, do you still feel the same way?

AA: I don't think that I ever really felt—even back then— that jazz was at a stand still. I think the people that were influencing things aren't the most forward thinking musicians. My beliefs about music are very different from that point of view. I think that creative music will always be here and it will always go forth. I don't know whether or not people will hop on to that and go along with it, but I think that even if this generation doesn't, then generations further down the line will. I think that music is always progressing [regardless] of people playing it or not.

AAJ: Speaking of forward thinking musicians, what would be your advice to young musicians who have a lot of history to learn from but also want to push the boundaries of this music?

AA: There's so many ways to approach it. The people I consider as forward thinking musicians are also backward thinking. You do have to check out the tradition, but this notion of checking out all of the history in order to pursue your own voice [is] false. There's so much history and we don't live forever; you're never going to get to the point where you say, "I've learned it all." The ideal thing would be to check out stuff from the past, where you are in the moment, and check out where you want to be in the future. So there are three components that are there and that have to be mixed equally.

I think that there is also so much focus on bebop in a lot of institutions, but the bebop movement wasn't very long. If you want to talk about learning tradition, then you have to go back to New Orleans and before that, like West African music. That's why I really respect someone like Steve Coleman or Wynton Marsalis. I really respect them for diving deep into the music and that's what people have to do. You have to be equally avant-garde as you are traditional.

I feel like a lot of students nowadays don't know records. Could you imagine being a philosopher and having studied and not having read certain books? It's impossible. You can't just come up with your theory based on what you think. I guess you can, but it's not going to be as concrete and it's not going to reach as many people as it could reach if you've studied a little bit more.

I do think it's important to study tradition, but I do think that you have to know that you're going to be studying it for your whole life; that's the beauty of it.

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