New to Me: Ambrose Akinmusire, Clare Fischer, Avishai Cohen

Last winter, in lieu of a “Best of” year-end list, I wrote a “New to Me” Top 10–the idea being that these days we’re all introduced to music through a wide variety of sources including radio, blogs, YouTube, live shows, word of mouth, dudes shouting on street corners, etc., and albums which jump up on my radar these days are less likely to be “new releases” as such. “New to Me” means exactly that–an album may have been around for years or decades, but I’m sharing it because it’s new to me. I also promised to make this a regular series, which I’ve been less than diligent about. Until now!

Here are a few artists and albums which have lately been getting a lot of play around my house, car, ears, subconscious. (Two of them are even literally new!)

Ambrose Akinmusire – “When the Heart Emerges Glistening” (2011), “Prelude (to Cora)” (2008): Ambrose grew up around here and has been known to frequent the same jam sessions I go to when he’s in town, so it’s just bad luck I haven’t heard him live yet–but his recent media firestorm is well-deserved. I’d been looking forward to checking out “When the Heart” since his Blue Note deal was announced, and was even more interested after reading some interviews. A few things he said actually blew my mind a little–for example: “I can sound like the most articulate trumpet player… But at the other side, I want to be able to sound like a beginning trumpet player. I want to be able to sound like I can’t play. I’m thinking of that spectrum.” For a jazz musician, this is kind of a shocking statement–it shouldn’t be, since that whole unpolished, raw quality has been part of the music since its earliest days–but I think players devote so much (necessary) time and energy to becoming masters of technique (playing the “right notes,” having a clean sound and execution, etc.) that they don’t often give themselves permission to be messy and raw (and play some clams if necessary). I recently wrote that I really enjoyed David Smith‘s playing due to the unapologetic “trumpety-ness” of it, and Ambrose really takes this ball and runs with it. Obviously he’s not the first player to combine that fondness for the messier side of the horn with solid chops (I think Dizzy, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Dave Douglas, and early Wynton are probably all in his artistic genealogy somewhere–he might like my hero Shake Keane too), but the adventurous unpredictability of his ideas is what really makes it stand out for me. I really enjoyed “Heart,” which is pretty evenly happening (although the production sometimes gets a little weird, like when overenthusiastic use of panning gives the impression Ambrose is flying around the studio on a wire)–so I also checked out “Cora,” which I think I might like even better, since it comes across as having even less studio-polish (despite a fair amount of synths) and the fearless blowing comes to the fore.

Clare Fischer – “First Time Out” (1962), “Surging Ahead” (1963): Fischer first cropped up on my radar in college, when my arranging teacher Mike Mossman touted his big band charts. But I never really checked out his piano playing until recently, when I found a $5 LP of “First Time Out” after doing a gig at Bird & Beckett’s and was inspired to dig deeper. So I managed to track down a used copy of “Mosaic Select: The Pacific Jazz Trios,” which includes the complete tracks from “First Time,” “Surging,” and some unreleased odds and ends from Fischer’s early 60s trio featuring the young Gary Peacock, plus other great material from West Coast pianists Russ Freeman, Richard Twardzick, and Jimmy Rowles. Fischer comes across on these albums as a really interesting improviser, tons of chops (his octave lines alone should win over the bopheads), melodicism, with an arranger’s ear for harmony and plenty of daring. Highlights include “Free Too Long,” a brisk free-blowing tune (over steady time) which is an interesting comparison to Peacock’s (slightly) later work with Paul Bley, or Keith Jarrett’s early trio albums; a burning version of “Lennie’s Pennies” (Fischer was obviously working his way through Tristano’s language and finds interesting, personal things to extrapolate from it); plus straightahead smokers like “Without a Song” and intricate originals like “Strayhorn,” heard below:

Fischer is still very active and I look forward to checking out more of his work from the past 40 years; I also came across a great podcast which includes plenty of his early playing and arranging work–check it out here: Extension: Clare Fischer in the 1960s.

Avishai Cohen – “Introducing Triveni” (2010): Another strong record from a young(ish) trumpeter. Cohen has lately been playing with the SFJAZZ Collective–don’t be confused by the name, the group’s only connection to San Francisco is the address on their W-2s–but I hadn’t really checked him out before I picked up this disc in Vancouver. (Canadian CD stores are a lot better for jazz than American stores.) (But not even close to Japanese stores.) My first band out of college was a trumpet/bass/drums trio, so I can appreciate how challenging it can be for the chops, but I remember it also encouraged interesting, less chord-dependent writing, and that’s certainly the case here. The band is swinging, loose, and sound like they’re really enjoying themselves. Cohen’s playing is impressive and imaginative throughout (and like Akinmusire, full of raspiness, vocalizations and other effects). Highlights for me were a great version of Don Cherry’s “Art Deco” and an absolutely killing live track called “October 25th.” With Cohen and Akinmusire, plus other folks like Kirk Knuffke, Jason Palmer and David Smith (not to mention the badasses here in the Bay Area!), it’s become clear to me that there are entirely too many happening young trumpeters out there. May be time to switch to the mellophone or something. (Nope, too late.)

Well that does it for this installment of “New to Me”–those are three artists which have been floating my boat lately, and maybe they’ll float yours, too. On a final cheesy note, why not take a second and Like my Facebook page? It’s quick, painless, and I swear I will never fall for any of those click-through viruses which flood your wall with posts about working from home. (I mean never fall for any of them AGAIN.)

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