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.