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Ambrose Akinmusire - When the Heart Emerges Glistening

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Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire

Album: When the Heart Emerges Glistening

Label: Blue Note

Review date: May. 4, 2011

Let’s call the album title a metaphor since a literal interpretation opens the door to gruesome horror completely at odds with the questing post-bop tack evident of the music. When the Heart Emerges Glistening marks twentysomething trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Blue Note debut. He’s a fine fit for a label known for well over a half century of fostering top brass talent, from Clifford Brown through Lee Morgan and on to Marcus Printup and Erik Truffaz. That lineage, particularly in reference to Truffaz and proxy claims of Miles Davis mimicry, is one of the obstacles to this project’s artistic independence, as elements of antecedent repeatedly threaten to color the proceedings.

Akinmusire easily trumps Truffaz in the area of technical skill. His agile delivery and rounded, even-tempered tone recall facets of Kenny Dorham and Dennis Gonzalez in terms of burnished beauty and melodic alacrity. He also wields an exemplary command of dynamics. Witness the disc’s opening “Confessions to My Unborn Daughter,” where a lush colloquy between trumpet and pianist Gerald Clayton shatters upon the bomb-blast entrance of drummer Justin Brown and bassist Harish Raghavan. Stereo panning effects enhance the overlapping lines of the leader and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, and the piece builds and recedes through interplay ripe with organic ebb and flow.

Adopting an album-oriented custom common of late, Akinmusire threads in shorter episodic tracks between the album’s longer pieces, starting with an elastic bass preface to “Henya” with Raghavan sounding robust resonating plucks. The piece proper benefits from the guest presence of mentor Jason Moran manning Fender Rhodes and creating an atmospheric, if throwback, fusion cast. “Far, But Few Between” and two variants of “Ayneh” (an “Airgen”-style reversal of the earlier title) fly by nearly as fast. Neither leaves behind much in the way of indelible stamps despite some fleet and sure-fingered valve work by the leader.

“With Love” trades on vaguely Latin syncopations as a basis for more lively conversation by the horns and Clayton, while “Regret” and “What’s New” accord more access to the close musical kinship Akinmusire shares with Clayton on a pair of verdant duets. While the ballads are impressive, Akinmusire’s finest showing might be “The Walls of Lechuguilla,” a stomping romp that makes good on the promise only teased at on “Far, But Few Between.” By contrast, “My Name is Oscar” finds Akinmusire momentarily hanging up his horn and intoning enigmatic vocal verse atop a pulsating accompaniment of polyrhythms from the versatile Brown. It’s a bracing, if initially opaque, aural rumination on the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the hands Oakland police.

Akinmusire’s aces aren’t just musical. The disc booklet includes a “fan letter” from Blue Note CEO Bruce Lundvall plugging his praises. Given that patronage in his pocket, the trumpeter’s tenure with the label will hopefully prove longer than that of certain erstwhile yet talented musicians that preceded him.

By Derek Taylor

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