Trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire rings the changes admirably from album to album. On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment is the most stripped down of his Blue Note outings (it is his fifth album for the label). It is made with a quartet. There is no second horn. The sound is ECM-like in its monastic simplicity. At fifty minutes it is also Akinmusire's most concise work to date. And while substantial portions of The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (2014), A Rift In Decorum (2017) and Origami Harvest (2018) were passionate and eruptive, On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment is in the main understated and reflective.
The new album is, however, every bit as socially and emotionally engaged as any of its predecessors. This time out, Akinmusire's compositional focus is the blues, albeit expressed in a modern, abstract framework. It is the blues as a feeling rather than a format. The ambiance suggests an old-time blues musician playing quietly on his back porch after the sun has gone down. Like that ancestor would often have done, Akinmusire is musing on the experience of living as a black man in a society which (still) overwhelmingly favours white people. But where The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint and Origami Harvest seethed, On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment simmers and, at times, soothes.
Practically all the album's solo time is taken by Akinmusire, who is utterly compelling. Pianist Sam Harris has a few choruses; "An Interlude (That Get' More Intense)" opens with a two-minute solo from bassist Harish Raghavan; Cuban-born guest percussionist Jésus Diáz brings a taste of santeria to the second half of "Tide Of Hyacinth;" "Cynical Sideliners" is a duet for Akinmusire on Fender Rhodes and vocalist Genevieve Artadi; closer "Hooded Procession (Read The Names Out Loud)" is a rumination by Akinmusire, alone on the Rhodes.
The most conventionally "bluesy" track on the album is "Roy," Akinmusire's lament for a friend, the late Roy Hargrove. It is also the only track which could be described as mournful. Elsewhere, Akinmusire brings light to the darkness and hope to the future. We can always use some of that.
Tide of Hyacinth; Yessss; Cynical Sideliners; Mr. Roscoe (Consider The Simultaneous); An Interlude (That Get' More Intense); Reset (Quiet Victories & Celebrated Defeats); Moon (The Return Amplifies The Unity); Roy; Blues (We Measure The Heart With A Fist); Hooded Procession (Read The Names Out Loud).
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.