In early September, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire teased the new album he was recording:
@amBROSEire: Ohhh wait … I think I was suppose to be making a killing melt your face off jazz album —- opps !!!
It first seems a little confusing, maybe even defiant. Here was perhaps the most buzzed-about, award-winning, magazine-cover-posing trumpet player of his generation — now well-known after an excellent 2011 record, When The Heart Emerges Glistening — proclaiming his nonconformity. One surmises that Akinmusire, only 32, is a bit put off by the public appointment as The New Face Of Jazz Trumpet.
So what kind of recording both befits and contravenes such hype? One clue is that his new album, the imagined savior is far easier to paint, asserts his thoughtfulness as a composer and bandleader unbeholden to category. When they aren’t referencing historical characters, his songs often come with fictional backstories. They also now come with literal voices — he recruited genre-straddling singers Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckmann and the singer-songwriter known as Cold Specks to create and deliver their own lyrics on a song each. And the presence of the OSSO String Quartet on selected cuts here confirms that he’s interested in following his own developing muse.
The album comes off as dark, certainly modern, filled with brooding and deliberate chord movement. The tunes generally aren’t particularly danceable or tailor-made for shower self-serenades, but neither is this antagonistic or algebraic music. A little patience, and it opens up nicely, as a partly sunny day suggests any manner or mixture of sentiments.
Under the strings and voices and other sonic alchemy, the imagined savior is still anchored by Akinmusire’s working quintet, with the addition or substitution of Charles Altura on guitar. The effect of that rather standard instrumentation centers the record; starting with the expository smears and whinnying of “Marie Christie” and ending on the live 16-minute throwdown “Richard (conduit),” there’s certainly material here to satisfy those looking for “killing melt your face off” jazz talent. There’s also a broader palette at play, ample evidence of a wider vision.