Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire review: embracing risk

Acclaimed young trumpeter’s artistic fearlessness sets an example that transcends music

by DOUGLAS DETRICK

In a solo introduction to a piece he played at his quartet’s June 17 show at Portland’s Mission Theatre, Ambrose Akinmusire began in the lowest register on the trumpet. His sound on those notes is warm, breathy, even fuzzy, but he manages to leap up to brilliant high notes and back down easily. He was doing this, stringing together flurries of notes, and then finished the phrase with a long sweep into a high note, but instead of the note he intended to hit, the sound just stopped.

Akinmusire took a deep breath and restarted the phrase, starting on the high note I assume he meant to play, winding his way back down to the bottom of the horn, sticking the dismount like Simone Biles.

There’s nothing remarkable about that on its own—all musicians make mistakes all the time. In a PDX Jazz concert where this trumpeter played thousands of notes, at nearly every pitch, volume and timbre possible on the instrument, this moment was an outlier in an otherwise brilliant performance, but it revealed much about Akinmusire. The way he handled it made it sound like he’d dealt with that situation many times before. And that moment told me that this artist has embraced risk. He runs towards the difficulty, rather than avoiding it. That he made so few mistakes like that while attempting some of the most challenging things you can do on the instrument is a testament to how good he actually is.

Ambrose Akinmusire performed at Portland’s Mission Theater.

When a young musician has been praised as much as Akinmusire, you can be forgiven for wanting to hear if he deserves it. This concert showed that he’s earned all of it, and provided a powerful example of how a jazz musician can make meaningful music amidst the forces that constantly rip our culture apart and put it back together. Those fissures don’t heal themselves—it takes artists of uncommon vision to mend them, and Akinmusire achieves that by inviting risk into his music as a fundamental building block of his musical worldview.

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