Ambrose Akinmusire

Released October 12, 2018 

JazzTimes Top 10 Albums of 2018

DownBeat Five-Star Review




Composer and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s fourth studio album began with a challenge of sorts. It was a commission from curators Judd Greenstein of Manhattan’s Ecstatic Music Festival and Kate Nordstrum of St. Paul’s Liquid Music Series that began with Greenstein asking, “What’s the craziest idea you have?”

Considering “challenge” and “crazy” are the order of the day, Akinmusire’s reply was right on time: “I wanted to do a project about extremes and putting things that are seemingly opposite right next to each other.” The result is Origami Harvest (release date: October 12), a surprisingly fluid study in contrasts that—with help from New York’s Mivos Quartet and art-rap expatriate Kool A.D. along with drummer Marcus Gilmore, pianist Sam Harris, and saxophonist Walter Smith III—pits contemporary classical wilding against deconstructed hip-hop, with bursts of left-field jazz, funk, spoken work, and soul.

That the album’s spirit evokes this era is no accident. These songs actively respond to societal divides, the way our politics hold us emotionally hostage, and the ever-growing list of black lives ended by structural racism. As with each of this Oakland native’s works there’s exquisite beauty and superb artistry here, each track a world unto itself lithely traversing moods and modes. But there’s heft too, even in the title. “Origami,” says Akinmusire, “refers to the different ways black people, especially men, have to fold, whether in failure or to fit a mold. Then I had a son while writing this and I thought about these cycles repeating: Harvest.” “I was thinking a lot about the masculine and the feminine. High and low art. Free improvisation versus controlled calculation. American ghettos and American affluence,” says Akinmusire. “Originally, I thought I put them all so close together that it would highlight the fact that there isn’t as much space between these supposed extremes as we thought, but I don’t know if that’s actually the conclusion of it.” The answer, of course, is being written all around us.

Track Listing:

1. A Blooming Bloodfruit in a Hoodie (Ambrose Akinmusire / Victor Vásquez) 12:59

2. Miracle and Streetfight (Ambrose Akinmusire / Victor Vásquez) 15:05

3. Americana/The Garden Waits for You to Match Her Wilderness (Ambrose Akinmusire / Victor Vásquez) 10:40

4. Particle/Spectra (Ambrose Akinmusire / Terrard Robinson / Lmbr-Jck T) 8:04

5. Free, White and 21 (Ambrose Akinmusire) 3:06

6. The Lingering Velocity of the Dead’s Ambitions (Ambrose Akinmusire) 9:54


Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet, synthesizer (4), voices (5)
Kool A.D.: voice
Sam Harris: keyboards, piano
Michael Aaberg: keyboards
Marcus Gilmore: drums
Olivia De Prato: violin
Lauren Cauley Kalal: violin
Victor Lowrie Tafoya: viola
Mariel Roberts: cello

Walter Smith: tenor saxofone LmbrJck_t: voice (4)

Recorded by Andy Taub at Brooklyn Recording Studio, Brooklyn, NY and Adam Munoz at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA
Produced by Ambrose Akinmusire
Mixed and Master by Dave Darlington at Bass Hit Recording, New York, NY


This might be the golden age for jazz string writing. Where once violins were drizzled over arrangements like semi-classical ganache, albums like Vijay Iyer’s Mutations (ECM), Tyshawn Sorey’s The Inner Spectrum Of Variables (Pi) and Fabian Almazan’s Alcanza (Biophilia) have made the notion of a jazz/ chamber music cross-pollination more than just some Third Stream pipe dream. And with the daring and original Origami Harvest, trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire takes jazz string writing to a new plateau. When Akinmusire toured the Origami Harvest project prior to recording, the music was a “jazz/rap/classical mash-up,” in part to explain the presence of both rapper Kool A.D. and the Mivos String Quartet. But the music itself doesn’t really stitch jazz, rap and classical together. Instead, it repurposes elements of each to create something strikingly unique. Given the eclectic ambition of Akinmusire’s earlier work, particularly 2014’s The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (Blue Note), that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But even the exceptional power of that earlier work doesn’t quite prepare listeners for the audacity of what is to come. For starters, Akinmusire manages to evoke a hip-hop feel without a bass player, often without even a bass line. Instead, he’ll rely on a rhythmic cadence that recurs— sometimes stated, sometimes implied— throughout the piece. For instance, “Miracle And Streetfight” opens with a clattering Marcus Gilmore drum statement, in which the tune’s basic pulse carries like a clave. When the rest of the band comes in, piano and string chords continue the rhythmic reference, while Gilmore, Akinmusire and Kool A.D. work contrasting elaborations. About halfway through the 15-minute epic, Walter Smith III’s saxophone enters, looped and overdubbed, simultaneously collapsing and telescoping the rhythmic ideas. That’s followed by a quartet sequence that expands the material both harmonically and rhythmically, which in turn sets up a churning, elegiac conclusion anchored by Akinmusire’s mournful, vocalized trumpet line. And yet, as powerful as the trumpet playing is here, apart from the sly, snarky “Free White And 21,” Akinmusire often seems less a presence as a player than Gilmore, pianist Sam Harris or the string quartet. Where his genius most keenly is felt is in the writing, which not only presents a wealth of ideas, but deploys them with power, ingenuity and grace, and that makes this a harvest worthy of thanksgiving.

J.D. Considine (Downbeat)