The New York Times: Ambrose Akinmusire’s Trumpet Takes a Back Seat to His Pen on ‘Origami Harvest’


By Giovanni Russonello

Ambrose Akinmusire, 36, may be the most distinctive, elusive and ultimately satisfying trumpeter of his generation. With a prickly, attenuated tone, he plays in little diving gestures, often wrapping his phrases around a crooked peg. When moving up a scale, he sometimes skips across an unexpected interval, as if he’s just built you a bust and left off the nose.

But what if his trumpet isn’t the biggest point? Looking at his career, his horn might matter most as a periscope into his compositions, which tend to be full-group affairs, too rich for any one instrument to carry. On “Origami Harvest,” his scorching and emphatic new album, the trumpet is often absent altogether.

This is Mr. Akinmusire’s most absorbing work since “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” from 2011, a contemporary classic his quintet. “Origami Harvest” stretches six lengthy tracks across a full hour of snarled interplay between the classical strings of the Mivos Quartet; Mr. Akinmusire and his two improvising brethren, Marcus Gilmore on drums and Sam Harris on piano; and the poet and rapper Victor Vazquez, a former member of Das Racist, who goes by Kool A.D. The result is a tangled portrait of anxieties, one that adheres to its own standards of beauty, taking no particular tradition for granted.

More than almost any other contemporary improviser, Mr. Akinmusire has invented a way of composing that’s unfixed from jazz’s stickiest conventions: Musicians trade the melody; solos evade a clear path or just cut out; tempos disintegrate. He’s rooted but not referential. So, while “Origami Harvest” is being billed as a kind of classical-meets-rap album, his source materials were bound to be more complex than that. If anything, he’s working from his own deconstructed versions of chamber music and hip-hop.