'Black music at the end of the day is Black music'
Ambrose Akinmusire, one of the most acclaimed jazz artists of his generation, is bringing his quartet to the Vermont Jazz Center for a Sept. 17 concert.

'Black music at the end of the day is Black music'

Ambrose Akinmusire, Grammy-Award nominee, will perform at the Vermont Jazz Center

BRATTLEBORO — Ambrose Akinmusire is a truth teller whose music is an expression of his personal journey as a Black man. Although he loves playing jazz standards, he has chosen to compose original music that draws attention to the realities of racism.

The Vermont Jazz Center is pleased to present the Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet, featuring Akinmusire on trumpet, Sam Harris on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Tim Angulo on drums, on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m.

This will be a live, in-person concert and will not be livestreamed.

Akinmusire's most recent album, his fifth for Blue Note Records, On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment , was a nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for the 2020 Grammy Awards.

The list of his accolades includes Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition winner, Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Solo Competition winner; Downbeat Critics Poll: Jazz Artist of the Year, Best Trumpet (numerous times); Jazz Times Critic's Poll: Trumpeter of the Year (three times), Artist of the Year, and Record of the Year; Jazz Journalist Association Trumpeter of the Year, and others too numerous to mention.

His discography includes six albums as a leader, and sideman work with Kendrick Lamar, Joni Mitchell, Joel Ross, Brad Mehldau, the Blue Note All-Stars, and many others.

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In a recent interview with Phil Freeman of the Burning Ambulance podcast, Ambrose alluded to his upbringing as the child of a woman from the Mississippi delta and a father from Lagos, Nigeria.

“I'm raised by a woman from the most racist county in the most racist state in the country,” he said. “My mom picked pecans out of Fannie Lou Hamer's yard. My uncle knew Emmet Till. I'm born and raised in Oakland and my first trumpet teacher was actually a Black Panther. This is how I grew up.”

“Living in Oakland is my experience,” he continued. “My life isn't about love ballads. It's difficult, it's beautifully complicated. I have to find a way of expressing this complexity. I would argue that every Black person living in America has to deal with this [...] so all this stuff is in my music.”

In that interview, Akinmusire begrudgingly accepted his position as a leader, as a person who other people paid attention to.

“What do you do from your platform?” he asked.

“I tried to run from that, and I tried to deny that I had [an influential voice] for a long time,” he said. “Now I can't. It's important to me to talk about the injustices that Black people experience, and the fear that I have walking around the United States and really a lot of places in the world.”

“And that is why I called this last album a blues album - it's trying to express beauty and pain at the same time, trying to express what is to me the most defining part: resilience. And that's what all my records are trying to express.”

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Strong convictions define each of Akinmusire's albums as a leader. His compositions and arrangements aren't easy listening, but they are so well-balanced that the struggles and anxiety that do emerge are part of a bigger picture that is quelled by a universal equilibrium achieved by long stretches of sensitive playing and empathetic reflection.

Akinmusire's sound on the trumpet is unlike anyone else's. He masterfully bends notes up and down to make the air coming out of his horn sound like the melismas of a human voice.

In an interview with Qobuz Music about his album The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint , which includes three guest vocalists, Akinmusire says: “I'm really influenced by the voice, specifically the female voice, because it's the same range as the trumpet, especially the range that I like to play in. There's a certain timbre, timbral qualities that the female voice has that I go for in my sound.

Citing as examples Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Bjork, Sarah Vaughan, and Becca Stevens, “I'm really influenced by the voice,” he says. “More than any instrument, that's what I turn to for inspiration.”

Akinmusire also explores other sonic possibilities such as unique forms, atypical instrumentation, extended techniques, and varied textures. Although his vocabulary is based primarily in jazz, he studied writing for strings while at the Thelonious Monk Institute and employs the magical colors of a string quartet to great effect in two of his albums, The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint and Origami Harvest.

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In general, Akinmusire employs these creative tools to express the Black experience through his own personal lens.

He sees Black music as a continuum. He sees himself as a channel for its expression. As an example of how Black music is seamlessly connected throughout genres and history, Akinmusire implies that we should look at the relationship between gospel music and jazz.

“I remember the first time I heard Art Blakey's Moanin' (composed by Bobby Timmons), and it sounded like gospel music being played on instruments with a different rhythm,” he said.

One of Akinmusire's most striking (and perhaps controversial) realizations is that he views hip-hop music as the natural evolution of Black music. In his conversation with Phil Freeman, he gets into it.

“First, we have to address what hip-hop is to me - it's not a genre of music that has a backbeat that people rap over - it's a culture for me, and I am a part of the hip-hop culture: the way I talk and the way I see and experience the world,” he says. “So, I would argue that my music is that [hip-hop].

“And I would take it a step further and say that hip-hop music is the most natural development of jazz,” Akinmusire continues. “If you look at what was happening in the '70s [and] accept that Weather Report and Head Hunters is jazz, then you have to accept hip-hop as jazz. So for me, hip-hop is jazz.”

“I can hear Louis Armstrong in Kendrick Lamar, I really can,” he says.

“It's kind of like what I was saying about Art Blakey and gospel. Black music at the end of the day is Black music. And I would argue that I make Black music, and therefore I make jazz, and therefore I make gospel - and it's all part of the same tree.

“You can't rip a branch off of the same tree and plant it, and convince everybody that what grows is a different tree. Black music is Black music.”

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Joining Akinmusire on piano will be Sam Harris, who has toured and recorded extensively with Akinmusire as well as Melissa Aldana, Logan Richardson, Rudy Royston, and Ben van Gelder.

Harris is featured on Akinmusire's Grammy-nominated album On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment, as well as Aldana's Visions.

For more than a decade, Harris has performed with bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Craig Weinrib. In 2018, they released Harmony, a collection of ambient blues meditations.

The album was included in The New York Times' “Best Jazz of 2018” list; Giovanni Russonello wrote: “Is [Harmony] a brilliantly assembled suite of compositions for trio, or a loose, 30-minute improvisation? Either way, it's low, dark and beautiful. And it feels like a guarantee that we'll be talking about the pianist Sam Harris for a long time.”

Harris released Solo in 2021, a series of placid sonic environments for piano and synthesizers recorded at his home, garnering praise in Bandcamp's monthly “Best Jazz on Bandcamp” series. His music draws on the blues and new age environmental music to create atmospheric, minimalist works that reconceptualize the classic piano trio format.

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Linda May Han Oh has performed and recorded with artists such as Pat Metheny, Kenny Barron, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, and others. Originally born in Malaysia and raised in Boorloo (Perth), Australia, she has received many awards, such as second place at the BASS2010 Competition, a semifinalist at the BMW Welt Jazz Award competition, and an honorary mention at the 2009 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Bass Competition.

Oh received the 2010 Bell Award for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year and was the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll Rising Star - Bass. She was voted the 2018, 2019, and 2020 Bassist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association, as well as 2019 Up-and-Coming Artist of the Year. She also was voted 2019 Bassist of the Year in Hot House Jazz Magazine.

Oh has had five releases as a leader that have received critical acclaim. Her most recent release, Aventurine, is a double quartet album featuring string quartet and vocal group Invenio, winning the Best New Jazz Work for the Australian APRA Art Awards. The Wall Street Journal says that Linda Oh's “innovative range and stellar improvisations have made [her] one of the most dynamic rising stars in jazz today.”

She is based in New York City and serves as associate professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and is also part of the school's Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice.

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The drummer for the quartet is Tim Angulo. Originally from Berkeley, Calif., Angulo now works with Wallace Roney, Reggie Workman, Kamasi Washington, Jonathan Finlayson, Charenée Wade, and Marlena Shaw. He has performed at Umbria Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, Jazz à Vienne, and Jazzfestival Bern in Switzerland.

Angulo was a fellow at the Brubeck Institute in Stockton, Calif., and later joined Jazz Education Network's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, where he played alongside Wynton Marsalis. He has a bachelor of fine arts degree from The New School in New York City in jazz and contemporary music and has also attended Banff International Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music, where he studied under Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey.

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Because Ambrose Akinmusire lives in California and seldom tours, this concert will be a special and rare event. The musicianship will be stellar, and the quality of the experience will be sublime.

This concert will be a limited experience. The Jazz Center anticipates a full house, especially because the number of attendees is limited to 120.

Setting up this concert has been years in the making, but it will be worth the wait. Come experience Ambrose Akinmusire, a legendary trumpet artist, a living legend who speaks for his generation as a respected leader.

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