Skidmore Jazz Institute director Todd Coolman’s introduction of Ambrose Akinmusire contained a really telling statement: “This music is fresh and exciting, and I won’t say I’m completely familiar with it… but my nose tells me there’s something going on!” Other than quoting well-worn lyrics from Buffalo Springfield, I can’t think of a more concise way to describe the mind-bending music Akinmusire and his quintet threw down on the crowd that filled Ladd Concert Hall on Tuesday night.
The bell of the Bay Area native’s trumpet was right up against the mic as he played in the clear to open the show, but no sound came from the house speakers. Not a problem: Zankel’s wizard acoustics sent his piercing sound flying around the high-ceilinged room. More than few of us sat back in our seats in respect – not only at Akinmusire’s power, but at the unconventional route he was already taking. This wasn’t traditional jazz trumpet by a long shot; it was closer to a classical vibe, but there was enough avant-garde in there to noticeably warp the sound as pianist Sam Harris filled underneath. It was an awesome combination of chops, control, and a genuine sense of direction, even if we didn’t know where Akinmusire was going. He did, though, and that’s all that mattered.
Rollins was also honored as Best Tenor Saxophonist. In addition, he was the subject of the portrait by John Abbott, which was named Best Jazz Photograph. And, of yeah, Rollins was also the subject of “Sonny Rollins: Getting It Back Together,” by Bret Primack, which was named Best Short Form Video of the Year:
Meanwhile, Hudson Valley saxophonist Joe Lovano and his band Us Five was named Best Small Ensemble, and their album, “Bird Songs,” earned top honors as Best Recording of the Year.
And Albany native Stefon Harris was also named Best Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year.
Nippertown jazz fans will also have the opportunity to see two more of the awards show’s double-winners in the spotlight – for free. The 84-year-old saxophonist Jimmy Heath earned the award for Best Book About Jazz (for his autobiography, “I Walked With Giants”) and well as the coveted Lifetime Achievement in Jazz honors. Heath will be performing with the Heath Brothers at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center on Tuesday, June 28. And Ambrose Akinmusire – who was named Up-and-Coming Artist of the Year as well as Best Trumpeter of the Year – is also slated to perform at the Zankel Music Center on Tuesday, July 5. Both performances are part of the Skidmore Jazz Institute.
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