Casting a spell might just be the real goal of any artist. The filmmaker hopes to create a world that you will enter, the novelist wants you to see her landscape in your mind’s eye, the dancer might have you see all the universe in the sweep of a limb. Music can do that. It enters you almost without permission, even in the dark. A song gets stuck in your head; a melody sets a mood; a shimmer of cymbal can put a chill across your cheek.
The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint, is even more remarkable and fresh.
Ambrose Akinmusire is a fresh jazz trumpeter who understands mood, who has set about doing things differently, making music that you haven’t quite heard before. He won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet competition in 2007, but the real emergence was in 2011, with his debut recording on Blue Note, a stunner that seemed to re-imagine a modern jazz trumpet vocabulary to include fresh sounds and daring intervals without taking leave of the tradition. Akinmusire’s new disc,
And, goodness, does it cast a spell.
The basic unit on this recording remains Akinmusire’s quintet, a very flexible band with Walter Smith III on saxophone, pianist Sam Harris, drummer Justin Brown, and Harish Raghavan on bass. This group morphs itself in a variety of ways, from a hard bop quintet to an impressionistic unit bathed in guitar reverb to a spare chamber group. Not only does the leader supplement the band with guitar, but he also spikes the recording with a variety of guests and sub-groupings that make the experience of The Imagined Savior not so much a thrill ride as a slow cinematic unfolding of different tensions, landscapes, and emotions.
There are four vocal performances on Savior, each distinct and remarkable. The first, an original song by Becca Stevens, is so gorgeously crafted that it is very nearly believable as a radio hit—or at least an indie-pop sensation. “Our Basement (Ed)” describes a narrator speaking to a beloved, “Your eyes were aglow like two moons / And your smile shot through me / Tranquilizing all the ache” but then reveals that the object of her desire is actually just a stranger passing, “I imagine you / Doing simple things / . . . Singing out the words that move you / Down the avenue / While I watch you walk past me.” The song is built around a heartbeat throb of drums, a very simple set of chiming piano chords, and a tiptoe of a string quartet arrangement. But what may be most astonishing is that the whole arrangement is built to feature Akinmusire playing a set of hushed but angular trumpet parts: a conventional improvised solo in the middle, but also a continual and perfectly modulated set of countermelodies that weave around the vocal and arrangement. It is purely beautiful.
Read the entire review here: Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint