Two years ago, your humble correspondent was smacked in the face by Origami Harvest, from Californian trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. As ambitious as it is touching, the album was an extraordinary encounter between a jazz trio, a rapper, and a string quartet. We still haven’t fully recovered from that cataclysmic shock and the artist now releases On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment, a less formally charged but equally nourishing wafer.
In the accompanying text for the album, the legendary Archie Shepp praises the trumpeter’s inventive compositions while marvelling at his ability to make the notes written in the score dance. The veteran saxophonist puts his finger on something: Akinmusire may flirt with abstraction, but he always does so with emotion in the foreground. The piece that pays tribute to Roscoe Mitchell is a prime example of this. The same goes for “Blues (We Measure the Heart with a Fist)”, on which the quartet led by the leader ventures out onto free ground. Alongside these more avant-garde pieces, a few ballads bring a bit of serenity to the ensemble, making it less burdensome.
Akinmusire recorded this album with the members of the quartet who have accompanied him for many years: Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (double bass), and Justin Brown (drums). The chemistry between these four musicians has been active for a long time, and you can hear it. They’re joined by Jesus Diaz, who recites in Yoruba on the opening piece, and singer Genevieve Atardi, who lays her voice on a Fender Rhodes interlude. This instrument comes back to provide the cadenza during the most moving moment of the record. Akinmusire has a habit of closing his albums by listing the names of African-Americans killed by the police. This time round, no words are spoken. The organ plays its funeral march while the title of the piece asks the listener to read aloud the new names that are added to this tragic list, that keeps getting longer and longer.