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2019 Chicago Jazz Festival Preview: Ambrose Akinmusire

By Jeff Cebulski

Festival concertgoers are encouraged to do some homework in preparation for the appearance of Ambrose Akinmusire on Friday night at the Pritzker. Akinmusire, a rising trumpet star, represents the top level of current jazz expressionists, tailoring his compositions almost as a soundtrack to and a commentary about social and racial concerns. His latest album, Origami Harvest, was utterly dedicated to addressing those themes, even though Akinmusire himself was not always in the mix; he composed the music, provided ambiance with his horn, and directed a sophisticated collection of strings, session players, and hip-hoppers. Akinmusire thus joined a growing cadre of jazz artists who are advancing postmodern recordings that serve as Bearden-ish collages of sound and word, people like Jason Moran, Christian (Scott) aTunde Adjuah, and Chicago’s own Makaya McCraven.

But Akinmusire’s previous recordings for Blue Note, more within the traditional genre, clearly created a conceptual context for his extended expression. The titles themselves set the tone: When the Heart Emerges Glistening; The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint; and the live A Rift in Decorum. For his Chicago appearance, Rift is probably the best reference. Recorded at the famous Village Vanguard, the album features Akinmusire and his quartet, including pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown. This is not derivative classic jazz quartet stuff; Akinmusire likes to delve in personal statements that ride a line between dramatic melody and abstract tone poetry. However, the quality of his playing and the synchronicity of his bandmates present a compelling environment for those who choose to stop whatever they are doing, and tune in to the heartbeats of a new generation. If you want to “get” Ambrose Akinmusire, put your phone in your pocket, get away from your gabby friends, come closer to the stage, and LISTEN.

Ambrose Akinmusire performs Friday, August 30, at 6:25 p.m. at Pritzker Pavilion. Click here for more information.

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