Sep 8 2014
Ambrose Akinmusire‘s enthralling new release, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint, presents a series of picturesque narratives that reveal a burgeoning intensity beneath a moody facade. The trumpeter serves up lyrical melodies that aren’t afraid to trust the strength of their initial pronouncement and go wandering. It’s a noir-ish style of post-bop reminiscent of the Brian Blade Fellowship’s storyteller heart. It’s also a style that leads to some very exciting moments.
And though Akinmusire’s newest release shares some borders with that of Blade, the trumpeter is clearly exploring territory quite distinct from anyone else. Of that noir-ish post-bop style, tracks like “Vartha,” “Memo (G. Learson),” and “The Beauty Of Dissolving Portraits” possess a fire at their core that is most evocative when they perch upon the edge of combustion. This, in combination with their moody reserve, provides a strong dose of tension.
An intriguing turn of events sees Akinmusire adding strings on “The Beauty of Dissolving Portraits” and “Inflatedbyspinning.” On the former, his trumpet shifts between statements of hope and sorrow, each expression swimming in the contextual sea of the strings’ thick harmonic drone… a sound not unlike sunlight when Akinmusire’s tone grows dark, akin to shadows framing the light of brighter tones. On the latter, flute and strings overlay patterns of an endless melodic beauty.
Adding further richness to the album’s profile is the addition of three separate guest vocalists. Each enhance the album’s moody appeal, each in their own way.
Vocalist Theo Bleckmann displays his talent for harmonic accompaniment on the the ethereal “Asiam (Joan),” his voice possessing the deep mysterious resonance of a bass clarinet, even when he soars up to the higher registers. Bolstered by Justin Brown’s cymbal work, the ensemble’s patient melodic sighs bob and float on a sea of clouds.
On “Our Basement,” vocalist Becca Stevens‘ focused delivery serves as the perfect foil for Akinmusire’s wild aeronautics through the smoky tune. Meanwhile, the simmering intensity of “Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child (Cyntoia Brown)” movws with a purpose and a determination where every word sung by Cold Specks is laced with heavy meaning.
Worth noting the track “Rollcall For Those Absent,” a song that has a child, Muna Blake, reading off the names of recently departed. The name Trayvon Martin brings the song some context. There’s very little music accompaniment to the recitation of names, and though the song sounds unhinged from the rest of the album, Akinmusire employing song as social protest is not unprecedented. The track “My Name is Oscar,” dedicated to Oscar Grant, an unarmed passenger shot by a Bay Area transit cop in 2009 was featured on Akinmusire’s 2011 release When the Heart Emerges Glistening. That song, too, had a startling absence of cohesion with the rest of the album’s tone, and apparently that effect is something the trumpeter was going for, because he accomplished it with a remarkable consistency on his newest, despite the inherent differences between the two recordings.
Speaking of that 2011 release, Akinmusire uses it as a launching pad for a more expansive view of a creative horizon line. Prior to this, Akinmusire had already gained a reputation as an emerging talent on his instrument, and previous recordings illustrated that Akinmusire had both the talent and the vocabulary for a solid post-bop trumpet-led recording. His newest proves that he can utilize those tools to tell an unconventional story overflowing with imagination and lyricism.
The album ends with 16+ minute live track, “Richard (Conduit),” a song that brings together the Akinmusire post-bop of before and the boundless Akinmusire sound of now. It’s a fitting send-off to a remarkable album.
Your album personnel: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet, Juno keyboard), Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Sam Harris (piano, mellotron), Harish Raghavan (bass), Justin Brown (drums), Charles Altura (guitar) and guests: Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckmann, Al Spx (vocals, effects), Maria Im, Brooke Quiggens Saulnier (violins), Kallie Ciechomsky (viola), Maria Bella Jeffers (cello), Elena Penderhughes (flute), and Muna Blake (spoken word).
Released on Blue Note Records.
Jazz from NYC.