Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ambrose Akinmusire - A Rift In Decorum Live at the Village Vanguard (BLUE NOTE 2017)

Trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire has proven himself an artist of rare ability and wide-ranging aesthetic interests on his previous Blue Note albums When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2011) and the imagined savior is far easier to paint (2014). Now with the June 9 release of his expansive new double-album A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, Akinmusire reaches a new pinnacle as he and his quartet of longtime bandmates – Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums) – join a distinguished strata of jazz artists who’ve made live recordings in the hallowed New York City venue.

The pre-order for A Rift in Decorum launched today along with the album’s lead track “Maurice & Michael (sorry I didn't say hello),” which is available now to download or stream. Akinmusire has also announced an extensive touring schedule for 2017 that includes concerts in Washington DC (Library of Congress, May 20), San Francisco (SFJAZZ, June 14-15), Los Angeles (Moss Theater, June 16), Montreal International Jazz Festival (June 29), a European tour throughout the month of July, and a return to the Village Vanguard this Fall (September 19-24). See below for a full list of tour dates.

“Justin and I have talked a lot about the spirits that we can feel in the Vanguard,” Akinmusire marvels. “It’s like I’m being bear-hugged by the spirits in there. Especially in a time like now, it’s great to have a place that still exists in the way that it originally existed.”

About the album title, Akinmusire muses: “A ‘rift’ to me relates to investigating a single moment. I think rifts are what make things beautiful. ‘Decorum’ ties into my feelings about what’s going on these days, musically and in the world. But there’s also something about the red curtains at the Vanguard: somehow in connection with that visual image A Rift in Decorum makes sense to me. Musically, I would add, the title is about celebrating the negatives and the positives, the ugly parts as well as the beautiful parts.”

The album was written and produced by Akinmusire, and finds the quartet exploring 14 of his new original compositions. “I’ve been really into exploring extremes,” he explains. “I take things that are really in your face and things that are so not in your face, and then it’s about rubbing those things together and hinting about a middle, or even questioning what a middle is. That’s what this quartet is about in my mind. So you’ll have a tune where we’re playing a lot of material, and then you’ll have something that’s much more spare, almost Morton Feldmanesque, or like a Chopin Nocturne. I think more and more I’m like this as a person — extremes, polar opposites, the far reaches of both.”

There’s a poignant story behind the opening track, “Maurice and Michael (sorry I didn’t say hello)”: “I wrote it when I was artist-in-residence at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The place where you stay to compose is so beautiful. You’re by yourself overlooking the ocean, and if you look over to the right when it’s clear you can see San Francisco and Oakland. One day it hit me — wow, I have friends that are still over there in the hood who would never even know anything like this exists, so close by. Not long after that, I was on the BART home and I saw someone I grew up with named Maurice, who had a brother named Michael. I hadn’t seen them since high school. Maurice seemed to be on something, his eyes were red, he could barely walk, and I just couldn’t say hello. Here I am in some fancy suit with my expensive headphones and Moscot glasses, and this guy I grew up with looks like he’s homeless. It really affected me. I went through so many thoughts: ‘Do I think that I’m better?’ ‘Who am I to feel ashamed at whatever success I think I have?’”

One could reasonably ask if the band felt pressure that week at the Vanguard, following in the footsteps of such giants. “I don’t feel pressure when I’m playing with my band,” Akinmusire responds. “Maybe it has something to do with me not living in New York, feeling more like a normal person, just a regular guy who plays trumpet. And also the older I get, the more of a spiritual thing it becomes for me. I really believe more than ever that I’m not the one playing, so the pressure is kinda off me. My job is to do all the work necessary to allow the spirit to come through me.”

1. Maurice & Michael (sorry I didn't say hello)
2. Response
3. Moment in between the rest (to curve an ache)
4. Brooklyn (ODB)
5. A song to exale to (diver song)
6. Purple (Intermezzo)
7. Trumpet Sketch (milky pete)

1. Taymoor's World
2. First Page (Shabnam's poem)
3. H.A.M.S. (in the spirit of honesty)
4. Piano Sketch (Sam Intro)
5. Piano Sketch (beyond enclosure)
6. Condor (Harish Intro)
7. Condor
8. Withered
9. Umteyo

Ambrose Akinmusire - trumpet
Sam Harris - piano
Harish Raghavan - bass
Justin Brown - drums