Ambrose Akinmusire, Owl Song Review


Ambrose Akinmusire, Owl Song Review

by Icrom Bigrad

Ambrose-Akinmusire-cdIn the latest offering from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, Owl Song, released under the esteemed Nonesuch Records, we find ourselves amidst a soul-stirring fusion of contemporary jazz ethos and intimate, explorative musicianship. Akinmusire, alongside guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Herlin Riley, crafts an aural atmosphere that speaks volumes of the trio’s synergetic brilliance. This album is a culinary delight for the ears, akin to a well-balanced meal, rich in flavors yet never overwhelming. The trio’s ability to blend the cool jazz tradition with ambient is akin to a chef who respects his ingredients but is not afraid to experiment.

Owl Song, a collection of eight Akinmusire originals, is a narrative set against the backdrop of our information-saturated age. Each track, a chapter, weaves a story of artistic resilience and emotional depth, encapsulated in an aesthetic warmth that’s as inviting as it is thought-provoking.

Akinmusire, through this album, showcases his skill as a trumpeter and composer who understands the delicate balance between complexity and accessibility. His playing, while steeped in technical mastery, always prioritizes emotional expression. This jazz speaks not only to the mind but also to the soul.

The opening piece, “Owl Song 1,” is the album’s overture, setting a tone of contemplative lyricism. Akinmusire’s trumpet sings hauntingly, juxtaposed against Frisell’s textural guitar work, oscillating between chordal structures and melodic lines. Riley’s understated yet omnipresent drumming acts as the rhythmic backbone, giving the piece an earthy realism.

“Weighted Corners” and “Flux Fuelings” further explore the trio’s chemistry. In the former, the interplay of Frisell’s looped guitars creates a soundscape reminiscent of a serene, moonlit night, while the latter track introduces a gently tribalistic rhythm, showcasing Frisell’s creative orchestrating skills on the guitar and Akinmusire’s refined and warm high notes.

The album’s midpoint, “Grace,” sounds of the trio’s understanding of musical space and texture. Here, the musicians speak in both tones and space, letting the music unfold in an organic and textural folklike manner.

In the tracks “Mr. Frisell” and “Mr. Riley,” Akinmusire pays homage to his collaborators. “Mr. Frisell” is a subtle dance of pulses and melodic exchanges, whereas “Mr. Riley” presents a more intensified, New Orleans march-like rhythm, enriched by Akinmusire’s blues inflections and hard-bop accents.

The concluding track, “Henya,” is a rubato ballad that features a looped guitar and a delicate trumpet line, culminating in a rhythmic pattern that mimics a heartbeat, a subtle reminder of our shared human experience.

Frisell’s contributions cannot be overstated. His guitar lines are conversation accompaniments full of lyrical wisdom and sonic curiosity. Frisell’s ability to meld the folk-jazz genre within this setting is a feat of musical alchemy, turning simple notes into gold.

Meanwhile, Riley is the rhythmic anchor, his drumming grounding and elevating the music. His understanding of rhythm as a narrative tool is evident throughout the album, particularly in tracks like “Mr. Riley,” where he weaves a rhythmic story that is as compelling as it is intricate.

In conclusion, Owl Song emerges as an innovative listen in the modern jazz era. This album’s allure lies in its musicians’ finesse and collective ability to forge a deeply shared emotional journey. A departure from the well-trodden paths of contemporary jazz, “Owl Song” blossoms on principles of innovation, emotional resonance, and a synergy that speaks of profound collaborative exploration. Akinmusire’s compositions provide a fluid framework that allows each musician the freedom to infuse their unique voice, creating a rich, dynamic dialogue that elevates the entire narrative. Akinmusire and his trio have woven more than rhythms and melodies, but a comforting embrace for the soul.

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