Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening

The Blue Note debut of a deeply original trumpeter, this disc is one to rave about, one to push on your friends.

Ambrose Akinmusire

When the Heart Emerges Glistening

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2011-04-05
UK Release Date: 2011-05-02

Thirty years ago, in 1981, a young trumpeter made his first statement on a major label and blew listeners out of their seats. When Wynton Marsalis debuted on Columbia, it was legitimate to say that you had never heard anyone play with such quicksilver fluency. It wasn’t that the music itself was daringly original but that Marsalis’s voice on the instrument seemed like a sudden, dramatic upgrade in brilliance.

The 2011 Blue Note debut of Ambrose Akinmusire has a similar power and excitement. Akinmusire is older (28), and he already released a very good disc on Fresh Sound New Talent (Prelude to Cora). But it remains that When the Heart Emerges Glistening is a thrilling, dazzling debut -- the emergence of a new voice in the music and a new sound and conception for the trumpet.

Akinmusire doesn't come out of nowhere. He played with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements band out of high school, he attended the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in LA, then he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Akinmusire was on the radar. A jazz fan might have seen him coming. But our ears still weren’t ready.

So, what’s so special about this trumpet player? Akinmusire combines three brilliant instrumental merits: a virtuosity of speed and fluency, an ability to generate new kinds of patterns and intervals and a freshly conceived approach to sound.

Akinmusire doesn’t show off by playing fast and high, necessarily. But he moves like a ninja through an alleyway -- slippery and precise, in front of you, then behind you, then beyond you. His playing on the original “The Walls of Lechuguilla” is flabbergasting. The trumpet-only introduction is like nothing you have heard before. Akinmusire toggles between two notes, playing the higher note with a deadened sound, then begins dropping the lower note micro-tonally Then he starts speeding up the pattern, then complicating it until it is a spiraling flurry. If it reminds you a bit of Lester Bowie, but also a bit of Dizzy Gillespie, then you’re hearing the kind of thrill that I am. It also brings to mind, just a bit, Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” as the whole exercise ultimately fuses brilliantly into the composition itself, continuing as a fascinating and percussive dialogue with a great rhythm section.

On this tune alone, Akinmusire demonstrates that he is playing in an original jazz trumpet voice. He monkeys with tone and note choice, but he does it at crackerjack tempo. You might be so taken with the dazzle of it all that you don’t realize that he does it all in the service of the composition. But, amazingly, he has that base covered too.

The opening tune, “Confessions to My Unborn Daughter”, is nearly as fine. Another introductory trumpet cadenza draws you in with unsettling originality, and then the band makes sense of it all with a grooving but stately triple meter. The rhythm section (pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown) locks in with a blend of jazz complexity and pop instinct. Like the finest bands out there today, these guys blend the elaborate dialogue of jazz with a stuttering edge of hip hop punch. And then there is tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, who plays like he is wired into Akinmusire’s brain directly. The two are twinned up like an Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry for the new era.

On “Confessions” and on “Henya”, there are moments where the two horn players, separately but also together, bend and choke their notes like virtuoso singers who operate without the boundaries of traditional scales or Western instruments. It might seem kind of avant-garde if it weren’t so utterly beautiful. It’s not bold as much as it is breathtaking. When the Heart Emerges Glistening isn’t a manifesto; it’s just great.

Akinmusire’s compositions are appealing, but they often have the jagged trickiness of his mentor Steve Coleman. “Far But Few Between” starts with a series of interval jabs by trumpet which are then answered by a rhythm section pattern that is so skitteringly complex that it seems improvised beyond a time signature (though I’m quite certain it is predetermined). “Jaya” is a mid-tempo groove tune based on a time pattern that sounds perfectly natural but that non-experts will hardly be able to discern. Remarkable it is, then, that these songs are not in the least forbidding or unappealing. Indeed, like all of Glistening, these tunes seem as easy to enjoy as anything from Wynton Marsalis or from a basic mid-60s Blue Note album.

A couple of tracks have notably different formats. “Ayneh (Cora)” is a delicate duet for piano (Clayton) and celeste (Akinmusire). The two also duet on “Ayneh (Campbell)” and “Regret (No More)”, where Akinmusire’s trumpet control -- his mastery of tone and pure sound -- serves a heartfelt melody. “My Name is Oscar” is a duet for Akinmusire’s spoken-word evocation of a police shooting in his hometown of Oakland, Calif., and Brown’s drums. Clean and powerful, it works.

Tellingly, Akinmusire includes only one standard in this recital: “What’s New”, also a duet. The feeling is outwardly more traditional, with Clayton playing in a modern stride style. But even here, the leader sounds fully up-to-the-minute, not aping his hero Clifford Brown but, instead, suggesting that Brown’s legacy is arcing into the future, decades after it seemed like there might be no new way to play “mainstream” jazz.

Kudos to Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall for getting Ambrose Akinmusire and his band into the studio. And kudos to pianist Jason Moran for not only suggesting this but also producing the recording (and playing Rhodes, subtly and beautifully, on a couple of tracks).

When the Heart Emerges Glistening is a gem. It’s a jazz record to rave about and to push on your friends. It’s the product of a talent that should send shivers up every jazz fan’s spine. Ambrose Akinmusire has been holding back, finding his voice, developing his band, and now he is here in full bloom.

Spring has arrived. You can feel it in your bones, and now you can hear it with your ears.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.