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Hear a Track From the Potent New Live Album by Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire

Pierrick Guidou
Ambrose Akinmusire

Earlier this year, trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire held a weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard with his excellent working quartet, featuring pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown. They recorded portions of the gig for what will be a double album.

That album — A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, due out on Blue Note on June 9 — consists of 14 original compositions across a wide dynamic and expressive range. It opens with a pensive anthem called “Maurice and Michael (sorry I didn’t say hello),” which has a melody full of gulping intervals, over a rhythmic thrum that suggests the insistent tick of a clock, or a swaying metronome.

Among other things, the tune confirms the deep cohesion of Akinmusire’s quartet, and the forward leap it has made in recent years. But there is also a personal history behind the cryptic title of the song.

“I wrote it when I was artist-in-residence at the Monterey Jazz Festival,” Akinmusire explains in a press statement. “The place where you stay to compose is so beautiful.” He goes on:

You’re by yourself overlooking the ocean, and if you look over to the right when it’s clear you can see San Francisco and Oakland. One day it hit me — wow, I have friends that are still over there in the hood who would never even know anything like this exists, so close by. Not long after that, I was on the BART home and I saw someone I grew up with named Maurice, who had a brother named Michael. I hadn’t seen them since high school. Maurice seemed to be on something, his eyes were red, he could barely walk, and I just couldn’t say hello. Here I am in some fancy suit with my expensive headphones and Moscot glasses, and this guy I grew up with looks like he’s homeless. It really affected me. I went through so many thoughts: “Do I think that I’m better?” “Who am I to feel ashamed at whatever success I think I have?”


A Rift in Decorum is Akinmusire’s first full-length live release. His previous album, The Imagined Saviour is Far Easier to Paint, included one live track, titled “https://youtu.be/0ERLJankc1s">Richard (conduit)” — but until now that has been the extent of it, unless you count an hour-long NPR broadcast from the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival.

Because Akinmusire’s quartet has developed such a strong bond in performance, the album feels like an essential document of its progress. Still, you’ll want to get up close and personal with the band in the coming months, if possible. Akinmusire will perform on May 20 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and his summer tour begins at SFJAZZ in San Francisco on June 14 and 15. The quartet will return to the Village Vanguard from September 19 to 24; for more dates and information, visit ambroseakinmusire.com.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.