Ambrose Akinmusire is a black jazz musician from Oakland who plays trumpet. Over the past decade, he has distinguished himself as an artist capable of infusing the notes he plays with a gracefulness and boldness that gives compositions a dynamic spirit.
For his recent album, “Origami Harvest” (2018), Akinmusire wrestled with “societal divides” and the way politics can turn individuals into “emotional hostages.” He acknowledged black lives extinguished by systemic racism in the United States as well.
Akinmusire deconstructed the title of the album. “Origami” evokes the “different ways black people, especially men, have to fold, whether in failure or to fit a mold.” He had a son and thought about how cycles repeat. That led him to the word, “Harvest.”
There are six compositions on the album, but the one selected, “Americana/the garden waits for you to match her wilderness,” is a ten-minute journey through the paradoxes of living in America as a black father. There is both beauty and dread for the future.
Akinmusire crafts a textured emotional landscape over four minutes before the first words are spoken by Kool A.D., who raps, “I’m a monster. Born in the belly of the beast. America. Americana. America-nah.”
“The savage histories, brutal legacies, illusory democracies, feudal tendencies, render and twisting souls—twisted like the vines in the jungle,” the song adds.
But there is also the “new rare feelings of freedom in a prison colony.” Akinmusire cannot ignore the intoxicating power of love.
“Love is the main thing. Renovate your soul power generator. Any hater hating be killing theyselves.”
As a series of words, seemingly disparate thoughts held together by conflicting emotions, are spoken, the composition builds to a climax that invites listeners to transcend the politics of the moment that breeds darkness.
Akinmusire said “Americana” was about “trying to bend time and space.” A “hypnotic theremin-like keyboard solo and wild trap-inspired percussion,” helped create this emotional feel.
“I was thinking about how in today’s political climate we don’t ever have space to stop and take a breath,” Akinmusire added. “It’s like somebody has interrupted the path to peace in ourselves. The track is changing just enough that you can’t ignore it. You have to either turn it off or relax into it. I wanted to control how you feel time pass.”
Each composition is similar to “Americana,” allowing Akinmusire to mine the tension between the masculine and feminine, “free improvisation versus controlled calculation, American ghettos and American affluence,” to craft art that invites us to contemplate the unjust and tumultuous world that surrounds us.
Listen to “Americana / the garden waits for you to match her wilderness’: