You’ve reached a Premium article. To continue reading, please login or start a 3-MONTH TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION for just 99 cents/month. You’ll receive unlimited digital access plus a complimentary issue of our award-winning print magazine.
With an approach that both honors tradition and points to the future, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire has recorded four highly regarded albums under his name. This time around, he’s created a truly singular work that puts the focus on his ambitious compositional designs.
There’s nothing new about combining jazz and classical or jazz and hip-hop. But Akinmusire molds all three elements into something truly unique, allowing for the seamless interplay of the trumpeter with drummer Marcus Gilmore, pianist Sam Harris and the strings of the Mivos Quartet. Akinmusire’s canvas is multi-layered. “A Blooming Bloodfruit in a Hoodie” traverses through hip-hop and elegiac string passages. After dissonant strings amplify the intensity of rapper Kool A.D.’s performance on “Miracle and Streetfight,” Walter Smith III’s heavily overdubbed tenor sax solo functions as a brief moment of ecstasy before giving way to the anguish of Akinmusire’s held notes. Akinmusire’s trumpet is rarely the focal point, but his performance on “The Lingering Velocity of the Deads’ Ambitions,” spiked with extended techniques and plaintive phrases, is a tour de force.
There’s also a clear sense of urgency in this work, specifically when confronting America’s institutional racism and state violence against people of color. Kool A.D. — former frontman of the alternative hip-hop group Das Racist — contributes rap and spoken word on three tracks. His lyrics tend toward the stream of consciousness with pockets of trenchant insight. “America/Americana/America, nah/The big monsta/The pigs kill men with the pigments darka,” he snarls on “Miracle and Streetfight.” On “Free, White and 21,” Akinmusire whispers the names of African-Americans killed by law enforcement or self-styled vigilantes in recent years. There’s also power in Akinmusire’s methods — set on top of undulating strings and Gilmore’s military march rhythms, the combination of words and music captures the subject matter’s contradictions and abject surrealism.
What Akinmusire has pulled off is nothing short of stunning. Above all else, he’s declared himself a composer with a bold and serious vision.— John Frederick Moore
Feature photo by Christie Hemm Klok