The Guardian review: Ambrose Akinmusire review – thrillingly high-end level fun

Photograph: Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns

Photograph: Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns

Ronnie Scott’s, London
The young American trumpeter led a set of scalding jazz improv that veered between lyrical delicacy and fierce drama

There was a wilder edginess to Ambrose Akinmusire’s opening set at Ronnie Scott’s than formerly on the astonishing young American musician’s UK live shows – and not just from him, but from the partners who have been at his side since his widely hailed emergence as one of jazz’s all-time trumpet originals seven years ago. Akinmusire has lately been composing more and working with string quartets and genre-bending singers such as Theo Bleckmann and Cold Specks. But this gig with regulars Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass) and Justin Brown (drums) was the kind of scalding real-time fusion of haunting themes and collective jazz improv only possible for players who can read each other like books, and anticipate the coming pages, too.

Alternations of low-volume lyrical delicacy and fierce drama characterised the show, with the undemonstrative Akinmusire initially exhaling a sensuous trumpet melody of long, swerving tones and ringing high sounds against Harris’s slow piano vamp. The reverie ended without warning in a percussive acceleration to a fast, blustery postbop melody hounded by Harris’s now slamming chordwork, and a long Akinmusire improvisation of tumbling uptempo descents and plaintive, early-Miles cries that seemed to hang in a parallel dimension to the onrushing rhythm.

The trumpeter’s unaccompanied, glowing pure high notes and languid purrs were gradually floated on to a two-chord hook and a rustling cymbals groove. The band explored bowed-bass harmonies and piano arpeggios while the leader retired to the shadows; and a brightly perky melodic dance for Akinmusire and Harris showed how attuned to each other’s thinking they remain.

Akinmusire’s ducking, diving Trumpet Sketch closed the set, its cryptic morse-code melody steadily loosening under pressure from an exhilaratingly unshackled Justin Brown until the band’s sound blurred into an ecstatically ferocious drone. “I’m just having fun with my best friends,” Akinmusire had earlier declared in one of his few announcements. That much was unmistakable, and a thrillingly high-end level of fun it undoubtedly was.