After the stunning modern jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire delivered on the acclaimed When the Heart Emerges Glistening in 2011, he plays it anything but safe on the imagined savior is far easier to paint. With his working quintet — tenor saxophonist Walter Smith, drummer Justin Brown, bassist Harish Raghavan, and pianist Sam Harris — he expands the frame to include guitarist Charles Altura in a sextet or alternating with Smith. In addition, vocalists Becca Stevens, Cold Specks, and Theo Bleckman (all of whom contribute lyrics) appear, as do the Osso String Quartet and flutist Elena Penderhughes. Akinmusire self-produced this set and showcases a diverse range of carefully scripted, genre-blurring compositions — modern classical, vanguard pop, spoken word — in addition to jazz. the imagined savior is far easier to paint is provocative: its moodiness, myriad musical directions, and 79-minute length may be initially off-putting. What is revealed with repeated listening, however, is that this set's achievement is commensurate with its ambition.
The New Yorker has called him “a thrilling young trumpeter and astute bandleader [who] has a unique spark in his playing.” On the new album—which Akinmusire produced himself—he subtly shifts the focus away from those thrilling trumpet solos to his compositions (Akinmusire wrote 12 of the album’s 13 tracks) while still leaving ample room for the band to stretch out and improvise.
Hearing vocals and lyrics set to his music was a different experience for Akinmusire, who often writes elaborate storylines and unspoken characters as inspiration for his instrumental compositions. With each of the vocal songs Akinmusire gave the vocalist the sketch of an idea and allowed them to flesh out lyrics based on that idea. Stevens returned both the music and lyrics for “Out Basement (ed)” while Bleckmann and Cold Specks set lyrics to Akinmusire’s music on “Asiam (joan)” and “Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child (cyntoia brown),” respectively.