Review Summary: The status of 21st century jazz.
Rollcall for those absent...
In this album you will realize the full dimension of heartbreak.
Heartbreak is not just a schism between supposed lovers. It is the falling of a child. It is the oppression of a people. It is the frailty of faith and the pugilistic exchange with hope.
After listening, you could write this album off as mere contemporary-jazz fanfare. You may admit this album would have a much deeper impact to other individuals than yourself. You could say formally-educated trumpeter Akinmusire is a collegiate virtuoso playing a pretend jazz-savant. You could even say this album is a mopey bummerfest. In all truth, though, Akinmusire has indisputable talent.
In this era of “social justice”, there are bellows for reigniting the rebel spirit of the ‘60’s coming from the underserved and underrecognized. In the jazz of the ‘60’s, freedom was almost tangible. Their seemingly beginningless suffering compounded itself for centuries… up until its sweet spiritual exaltation emanated from the fingertips of wizards like Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.
And although Akinmusire is not close to the realm of greatness and experimentation those predecessors met - and although he may come off as a little too on-the-nose, that original spirit lives on in his music and on this album.
Akinmusire & co. have the ability to send the ordinary into a higher plane. The names shared in this review... the names uttered in the track “Rollcall for Those Absent” - they’re just names. We gave no backstory. Just names and a title. But they’re more than just names and a title, aren’t they? They carry an impact. They carry a story. There is a dire context behind them transcending simple pronoun. Between the notes - between the melodies - between the hypnotic improvisation of keys and brass - between the theatrical performances of otherworldly vocalisation - there’s a story.
There’s a story told on this album. In this Spotify age it’s one thing to check-off another “must-listen-to jazz album” from your list, criticize the direction and performance of the album then move on to the next one… but this album is more than that. Don’t get me wrong, it has flaws. Two particular tracks (“Bubbles” & “Richard”) are forgettable and meandering. But the rest speaks volumes in a way jazz hasn’t in half a century. “Our Basement”, “Vartha”, “The Beauty of Dissolving Portraits”, etc. are pivotal moments of frisson any self-proclaimed jazzhead must give a listen to.