Following up the dreamy mélange of string quartet, hip-hop, and abstract jazz that was 2018’s Origami Harvest, Oakland trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire returns with on the tender spot of every calloused moment, revisiting the hard-hitting acoustic sound of his working quartet with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown (the same lineup that recorded 2017’s A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard). In the confines of the studio, they’re not a bit less energized and audacious. There’s a certain loose and limber authority and turn-on-a-dime polish in such pieces as “Blues (We measure the heart with a fist),” “Tide of Hyacinth” (featuring percussionist/vocalist Jesus Diaz), and “An Interlude (that get’ more intense).”
Akinmusire’s recent work with veteran Chicago avant-gardist Roscoe Mitchell inspired the busy and insistent “Mr. Roscoe (consider the simultaneous).” (It’s worth noting that Archie Shepp wrote the liner notes for this album, remarking of Akinmusire, “This is the cat!”) The guest vocal by Genevieve Artadi of KNOWER on “Cynical sideliners” finds Akinmusire playing gentle accompaniment on Rhodes, revealing new facets of his musicianship. “Roy” is a soulful ballad homage to the tragically departed Roy Hargrove, a dear friend and role model, while the closing “Hooded procession (read the names outloud),” with Akinmusire on solo Rhodes this time, alludes to the ongoing injustices that have catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a continuation of what has become a series, starting with “My Name Is Oscar,” “Rollcall for Those Absent,” and “Free, White and 21” from previous Akinmusire albums. The fact that he articulates no names, only a sequence of resonant sustaining Rhodes chords, lends a certain inscrutable mystery and gestural power to the track.