Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Casually Introducing Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire, based on his work as a side-man on various brilliant recent albums (Vijay Iyer's "In What Language" comes to mind, as does Walter Smith's "Casually Introducing Walter Smith," but we'll get to that one a little later) and on his recent wins in both of the two major trumpet competitions (the Carmine Caruso competition and the Thelonius Monk competition), is probably the young trumpet player of the moment. In spite of this fact, he has waited up until now ("In What Language" came out in 2003) to release a solo record, paying more attention to work as a sideman and on school at the Monk Institute. "Prelude: To Cora" is a pretty good record; the sidemen (including Walter Smith and Aaron Parks) play their asses off, the compositions are fairly modern sounding amalgamations of jazz (read: hard-bop and post-bop) with R+B and hip-hop, and the production only adds to these two things without getting in the way.

If you already want to buy this album based on what I just said, by all means, stop reading now. What is about to follow is a personal (and unpopular, as far as I can tell) opinion of mine about this record.

All of the stuff I mentioned above is true, but the problem is that while listening to "Prelude: To Cora," I experienced deja vu. I didn't think much of it until I realized a few minutes later that it is the same record as "Casually Introducing Walter Smith III." The three major players on "Prelude-" Akinmusire, Smith, and Aaron Parks- all play (the same) major roles on "Casually Introducing." The harmonic language that makes up Akinmusire's compositions on "Prelude" is the same harmonic language that Smith uses in his own compositions. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking "but there's clearly a difference between the two records! 'Prelude' has a vibes player! And there's much more variation on Smith's album!" Both of those things are true. Chris Dingman does not play on "Casually Introducing," although if he did it would not have been much of a different album. And the variation on "Casually Introducing-" which is, for the most part, missing from "Prelude-" was part of what made it such a great record.

This problem is illustrated best by "HumSong (skidrow anthem)," which, ironically, also happens to be one of the prettiest songs on the album. It opens up with a statement of the melody, followed by a section in which an organ trades with another rhythm section instrument (in this case vibes), which itself is followed by trading between saxophone and trumpet, and then the melody is taken out with (what sounds like) sequenced percussion. Sound familiar? That's the arrangement of "Kate Song," one of the prettiest songs on Walter Smith's "Casually Introducing." There is a remixed version on Akinmusire's website that is much more interesting; even though the playing is the same, the fully sequenced percussion adds a sense of urgency that is lacking from the album version.

But seriously, the playing is great- Parks, Smith, Akinmusire, and Dingman are all in top form- and for at least that reason you should probably ignore everything I just wrote about this album, especially if you liked "Casually Introducing." If you do not, however, have "Casually Introducing Walter Smith III," you should go and buy that album; it serves as a better introduction to this group of musicians (and includes guest spots from Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, Gretchen Parlato and Lage Lund).

No comments: