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Ambrose Akinmusire: Origami Harvest (Blue Note)

Review of the trumpeter's provocative blend of jazz, classical, and hip-hop

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Cover of Ambrose Akinmusire album Origami Harvest
Cover of Ambrose Akinmusire album Origami Harvest

It’s become relatively common for jazz artists to incorporate elements of hip-hop into their work, but the fourth studio outing by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is one of the more provocative of these mash-up projects to have emerged thus far. Rapper Kool A.D. (late of the alt-hip-hop aggregation Das Racist) juxtaposes a neo-Burroughsian mélange of surrealism, social commentary, and occasional sexual throwdowns against Akinmusire’s brooding trumpet meditations, as New York’s Mivos Quartet adds string textures and colorations that are alternately soothing, acerbic, wafting, and propulsive, yet consistently cast a high-art sheen that throws Kool’s street-tough signifying and Akinmusire’s reflective impressionism into even starker relief. At various points pianist/keyboardist Sam Harris, keyboardist Michael Aaberg, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, and drummer Marcus Gilmore toughen the music’s thrust and further deepen and expand its scope.

Kool’s voice, as is typical in rap, retains for the most part an inflexible timbre and a caustic emotional bluntness. But he also uses it as a percussion instrument, laying down variegated rhythmic patterns (“shuddering, stuttering, sputtering, muttering prayers, chants, incantations, curses . . .”) alongside Gilmore’s own multi-layered attack, which interweaves concatenated beats dancing among and against one another. Kool’s words, meanwhile, are a riveting mix of anguish and resolve, rich with both pathos and irony, infused with a hard-eyed yet ebullient sense of play, absurdist punning, and humor.

For his part, Akinmusire often invokes Miles Davis with his breathy tone and dark-hued solemnity, but at times he also ventures farther afield, as if summoning the spirit of Bill Dixon—challenging, even defying, conventional notions of tonality and melodic structure. Vocabularies, syntaxes, and aesthetic conceits that heretofore might have been considered incompatible meld together in a true “freedom jazz dance” for a new age.

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Originally Published