Ambrose Akinmusire: the imagined savior is far easier to paint

Self-seriousness lurks in the piano and trumpet delicacies that begin the imagined savior is far easier to paint; all that’s missing is ECM’s famous five-second silence. By album’s end, though, it has developed into an early candidate for the best of 2014.

Unabashedly arty, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s third album is his “composer” record. He doesn’t play it safe, either. The 12 originals here (plus one cut written by Becca Stevens) are complex pieces: multiple sections, tricky meters, a lack of motifs or conventional forms. “Vartha,” for example, at first seems built on a mellow 3/4 vamp for guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown, with pianist Sam Harris sometimes joining; Akinmusire’s entry demolishes the groove, then restores it just long enough to modulate to a new key before demolishing it again. Another, “Bubbles (john william sublett),” has a linear, full-ensemble tune that confounds attempts to count meter and occupies (between statement and reprise) three of the track’s four minutes. Not likely to become standards, these pieces nevertheless successfully convey profound emotion-and Akinmusire’s trumpeting.

And make no mistake: Trumpet is the draw, composed or no. In addition to Akinmusire’s sextet (which also includes tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III), imagined savior beautifully features the OSSO String Quartet; flutist Ellen Penderhughes; and vocalist-lyricists Becca Stevens (“Our Basement [ed]”), Theo Bleckmann (“Asiam [joan]”) and Cold Specks (“Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child [cyntoia brown]”)-plus young Muna Blake, who appears to recite a heartbreaking list of racially charged shooting victims (“Rollcall for Those Absent”). Yet throughout, the high, clear, crying tone of the leader’s horn penetrates the band and hits dead on. It may carry a bit too much of its ambition’s weight, but the imagined savior is far easier to paint is a gorgeous, moving album.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.