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Originally published on August 26, 2020.Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire rebukes the notion that musical abstraction is inherently cerebral. Within onthe tender spot of every calloused moment, he lapses from intricate compositional tightness into bouts of freedom that uncannily imitate the ways in which feelings manifest in the body. “Tide of Hyacinth” opens the record with scribbled trumpet lines like knots in the diaphragm — stark piano arpeggios rippling upward like a heavy heartbeat. Here, with perhaps his most experimental offering to date, the bandleader is also at his most emotionally direct. Akinmusire’s approach to his instrument is similarly corporeal; transcribing his playing would capture little of what makes it iconic. “Blues (We measure the heart with a fist)” reveals the depth with which the trumpeter has probed extended techniques. The spacious intro teems with pops, fizzes, whines and polyphonic whispers that seem random before the other instruments frame the dexterity within the chaos.
But Akinmusire’s tonal brilliance is even more evident in the organic nuance of his more straightforward playing. On “Moon (the return amplifies the unity),” the album’s busiest composition, his notes spill out of one another with pillowy raggedness, exquisitely loose like an aged voice or an impressionist’s brushstrokes. Pianist Sam Harris and bassist Harish Raghavan take turns doubling the melody to substantiate each note’s attack as drummer Justin Brown skitters around the kit, carving out space. Ballads like “Yessss” and “Roy,” on the other hand, allow Akinmusire to evince the crooning side of his instrumental artistry. So much of the record’s drama stems from his ability to morph between sounds within a single held note — the trumpeter can swallow a piercing edge or condense a breathy rasp as gracefully as light shifting. This density of detail allows for shorter pieces, with half the tracks clocking in under four minutes. The album as a whole remains cohesive, elegantly paced up until the bare finale, an arresting solo Rhodes dirge called “Hooded procession (read the names outloud).” — Asher Wolf