Bozar M Hall hosted the erratic experiment of blending the top-notch trumpeter that is Ambrose Akinmusire with a big band, Brussels Jazz Orchestra, which worked out incredibly well and the show simply resulted wonderfully.
Admittedly, no one knew exactly what to expect from this evening although, everyone in the public was confident a great performance ought to happen shortly after. Of course, no one dared to doubt on Ambrose Akinmusire’s skills but, considering the famous trumpeter has only been used to playing with quartets and lacked experience with big bands, the dynamics of such orchestration of instruments was not that evident.
Ambrose Akinmusire is a great composer, arranger and creator. Nevertheless, sometimes we simply forget what a monster he is on the trumpet. The repertoire consisted of Akinmusire’s own compositions, in arrangements by the great Jim McNeely, who said in an interview with The New York Times: “Ambrose Akinmusire may be the most distinctive, elusive and ultimately satisfying trumpeter of his generation.” Having started early in learning music, Akinmusire was only three-years-old when his parents decided to send him to the piano class. He then swapped piano for drums and eventually ended with the trumpet. Steve Coleman notices Akinmusire during a school performance and decides to take the then nineteen-year-old trumpet player on a European tour: “It was a blessing to be able to learn from someone like Steve,” said the trumpeter.
In addition to his collaborations with older, wise artists such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Joni Mitchell, Akinmusire also recognises the influence of like-minded peers on his music. Making music with Vijay Iyer, Esperanza Spalding and Jason Moran, he was picked up by Bruce Lundvall, the then boss of Blue Note Records, on which he debuted in 2011 with the acclaimed When the Heart Emerges Glistening.
On an evening in Belgium, with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra—a group made of 13 musicians founded in 1993 who have performed with many acclaimed musicians and in 2012 by obtained Golden Globe, BAFTA, César and academy awards for The Artist soundtrack, Akinmusire was ready for a sparkling performance.
This event was the closure night of a five-day small tour across the region and was at the apex of this first-ever collaboration between a big band and the trumpeter. The Brussels Jazz Orchestra played a fun and energetic support to the special guest and the bandleader, Frank Vaganée, told the crowd about how much the band learned by such small but intense tour experience with Akinmusire. This unexpected combination of skilled musicians resulted in a continuous and particularly enthusiastic response from the audience, who loudly clapped at each interruption between songs.
The group played a couple of hours of colourful and mesmerising spiritual-influenced jazz, with most of the tracks belonging to Origami Harvest, Akinmusire latest album. The setlist swung between a rapid and noisy rhythmic intensity and intervals of tranquil softness.
All musicians outperformed during their solos. However, Akinmusire’s trumpet always represented the lead with an involuntary authority. When not playing, he would stand firmly, holding his instrument, watching the other musicians and nodding his head with a look of chilled approval.
After a standing ovation and resultant encore, the set was over, and we left the venue unable to stop smiling. It was one of those concerts where we felt we have been attending something special that does not occur every day. For Ambrose Akinmusire, music is the connecting factor and in fact, we have been dragged hand in hand by the music and we let it surround us. Ambrose Akinmusire and Brussels Jazz Orchestra delivered an enchanting experience. It was undoubtedly a must-see experience for any jazz fan—or actually for any music fan at all for that matter.