The lauded bandleader dazzles with his sophisticated high-calibre band
By Nick Hasted for Jazzwise Magazine
“This is the cat!” Archie Shepp raved in his liner notes to On The Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment, Ambrose Akinmusire’s landmark fifth studio album, with its deep wells of suspended, meditative mystery. Shepp compared the trumpeter’s methods and intensity of purpose to his memories of Trane. And really, no one feels closer. Every night is another opportunity to see Akinmusire renew the jazz tradition at its most serious and soulful.
Alina Bzhezhinski’s Hip-Harp Collective strongly open this Brighton Festival gig by exploring her harp’s range, from symphonic soul strings in a lush spiritual jazz tune to Afro-Cuban dance with metallic, Caribbean percussion, hip-hop rhythms and dirty, looped electric bass.
Akinmusire begins with a clamorous blues, Sam Harris’s dreamy, harp-like piano turning icy as new drummer Timothy Angulo smashes sharp, impressionistic shards. Akinmusire’s sparing solos show so much shifting, fresh thought, composed with emotional, not abstract, intellect. On the next tune, he woozily hums in sympathy with Harish Raghavan’s bass, and follows long, piercing high notes with rasping jabs.
Akinmusire is a humble guiding spirit, playing the least in a quartet of innate intensity and regular beauty. When he drops out, Harris prettily flickers in a trio made febrile by Angulo’s tumbling, off-beat angles and a solo exploring all his resources. Akinmusire shouts encouragement, then darts to the front to call a halt. Earlier, Harris’s lonesome classical instincts and Angulo’s steaming energy sounded like Rachmaninov joining the Jazz Messengers, Akinmusire’s shoulders rolling to the swing beneath the tumult.
The only tune Akinmusire announces is ‘Roy’, a tribute to his mentor Roy Hargrove – thanked 12 times in On the Tender Spot…. His elegiac weep is soulfully deep in the tradition, ruefully blue then crying high. On the main set’s closing ballad, he has a healing tone which still feels the pain, holding a rising high note like a thread as the band brush soft colours behind. His tone bruises and breaks, finding his way moment to moment, before holding a last meditative, spiritual, heart-slowing note.
There are walk-outs in this big theatre, Akinmusire perhaps misdescribed in the publicity, and a genuine, adoring encore which tops the lot. There are jagged, brittle notes from Harris, rocking on his stool, and a deep, constant bass throb, in a 21st century New Thing blues. Akinmusire’s the quiet eye of the hurricane, making the smallest, ringing sound, finding insistent phrases, leading the tensely relentless rhythm, and picking notes like a guitarist over its pulse. Letting a last, lovely phrase fly, he takes us all home.