by Willard Manus
for the new Miles, the next Dizzy. His name is Ambrose Akinmusire, a 28-year-old
trumpeter/composer out of Oakland by way of the Berkeley High School Jazz
Ensemble, USC, the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, and the Manhattan
School of Music. Akinmusire, named recently by the LA Times as a "Face
to Watch," released his first CD four years ago, Prelude...To Cora
on the Fresh Sound New Talent label. Now he has released his first album
with a major label (Blue Note Records): WHEN THE HEART EMERGES GLISTENING.
Co-produced by Akinmusire and the noted pianist Jason Moran (who also
plays on two tracks), WHEN THE HEART features thirteen compositions, eleven
of which were written by Akinmusire. A few of the tunes, like "Henya
Bass Intro," are brief, but that doesn't matter: everything on the
album is deeply felt, sensitively played and fresh sounding.
Akinmusire and his band (sax man Walter Smith III, pianist Gerald Clayton,
bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown) love to drive fast and
hard, then suddenly downshift and find tender and poetic moments. Akinmusire
leads forcefully with his trumpet but never overwhelms the ensemble, who
are every bit as nimble and creative as he is, particularly Smith on tenor.
They've been playing together for twelve years and are like Siamese twins
in thought and execution (check out their dazzling interplay on "Confessions
to My Unborn Daughter").
What also clearly emerges from this album is Akinmusire's voice, his point
of view. There is an emotionally invested honesty and spirituality about
his music; what he wants above all is to move people with it, inspire
them to connect more deeply with one another. His strong social consciousness
motivated him to write "My Name is Oscar," a powerful piece
dedicated to Oscar Grant, the unarmed 22-year-old African-American shot
dead by a BART policeman on New Year's Eve in 2009. Akinmusire's cryptic
"...Inauguration...I am you...Don't shoot...Oakland...Live...We are
the same...etc." is backed by Brown's insistent and fierce drumming.
Akinmusire isn't afraid to talk about death either; his "Tear Stained
Suicide Manifesto" deals unflinchingly with that taboo subject, giving
it a haunting beauty. On the upbeat side is "What's New," a
tribute to one of his trumpet idols, the late Clifford Brown.
Akinmusire is without doubt the 21st century's Young Man With a Horn.