February 25, 2024

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CD review: Ambrose Akinmusire – Beauty Is Enough – 2023: Video, CD cover

The title says it all: “Beauty Is Enough”, an astonishing solo trumpet performance by Ambrose Akinmusire, who is usually more active in what we could call ‘modern creative’ jazz, and member of several bands that we reviewed over the years, but never as a leader. 

For Ambrose Akinmusire, exploring the beauty in solitude and sitting with oneself has been a long-time fascination.

On this album, he strips away any reference to any musical genre, or using his incredible eclectic knowledge of music, ranging from classical to free improvisation, to bring us sixteen relatively short pieces, in which he creates a fascinating musical universe of crystal clarity and deep emotion. Austerity and masterful discipline on his instrument are merged with feelings and compositional complexity.

There are moments when his sound is closer to classical than to jazz, with a purity of sound that is uncanny in its resonance in the open space. In stark contrast to classical musical are acoustically distorted and fractured sounds, bended notes, expressive and exploratory moments. It sometimes sounds like a merging of Bach and Lester Bowie. Bach also comes to mind in his use of structural repetitions, that get slightly altered each time. For most pieces he manages to introduce thematic patterns acting as a foundation for this improvised flights of sound, as if he is accompanying himself without overdub.

“Playing solo has just been something that’s been in the back of my head,” he shares. The allure lies in finding beauty in simplicity and committing to it, even when the temptation to showcase technical prowess and flashy techniques is strong. With this new solo project, Akinmusire sought to embrace the center of beauty and self, letting the essence of creation radiate through his music.

I have listened to it for months now. I have put the album away, and listened to a lot of other music in between, but then you need to hear it again. It is calming, soothing, comforting, it shines, it brightens the room, the space, the day, it jubilates and moans, it energises, it baffles by its incredible virtuosity. It is majestic, solemn, magnificent, yet equally sensitive, personal, intimate, lightfooted and playful. And not one after the other. All these things together, at the same time, and as you notice, there are not enough adjectives to describe my enthusiasm. At the same time it is also authentic, unassuming, humble in its approach.

Throughout his 15-year career, Akinmusire has firmly established himself at the intersection of jazz, classical, and hip-hop, defying conventional boundaries and embracing inspiration from various art forms and life experiences. His compositions are like poetry in motion, gracefully bold and unapologetically audacious. Honored with grants and commissions from prestigious organizations like the Doris Duke Foundation, the Kennedy Center, and the Berlin Jazz Festival, Akinmusire’s work always resonates deeply with critics and audiences alike.

Beyond the accolades and recognition, Akinmusire remains committed to the profound spiritual and practical significance of art. He aims to break down the barriers surrounding his music, creating emotionally rich soundscapes that reflect the stories of communities and capture the essence of time. Fearlessly pushing the boundaries of invention and creativity, he honors the legacy of Black innovation while forging a path that is uniquely his own.

As an in-demand sideman, Akinmusire has graced recordings by Esparanza Spalding, Roy Hargrove, Jack DeJohnette, and Billy Childs, to name just a few.

As you dive into Beauty Is Enough, prepare to embark on a sonic adventure led by Ambrose Akinmusire’s masterful artistry. It’s a celebration of the beauty found within ourselves and an invitation to explore uncharted territories in the ever-evolving landscape of music. Through his unwavering dedication to creating music that’s his own, Akinmusire continues to transcend genres, forms, and preconceived notions, leaving us inspired and transformed with every note.

Akinmusire was already known to be an excellent trumpet player, but he has outdone himself, propelled himself into a different league altogether. He does not seem to want to prove anything. It is not self-centered or designed to break boundaries. It just says: listen to this. This music. Beauty is enough.

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