Trefoil: Akinmusire, Davis & Cleaver
While cloaking post-bop jazz in new fire, the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire has stretched it into the realms of hip-hop, pop, and the spoken word across a fifteen-year career that already has the burnished authority of one twice that length. Born in Oakland, California, the gifted young player was touring Europe with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements while still a student at the Manhattan School of Music. Just a few years later, in 2007, Akinmusire won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and released his debut album, Prelude…To Cora. Its unmistakable point of view, as well as Akinmusire’s work with the likes of Esperanza Spalding and Vijay Iyer, caused Blue Note Records to come calling.
Since then, four studio albums, one live album, and a feature on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly have verified Akinmusire as a standard-bearer of his generation. In 2020, on the tender spot of every calloused moment convened his regular quartet—with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown—and received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. “Some of the pieces … exhibit virtuosic dazzle, but the less frenetic performances reveal his gift for dramatic understatement,” The New Yorker wrote.
As such, it’s an occasion of some moment when Akinmusire reveals a new trio, as he does at Big Ears this year: He’ll be joined by Kris Davis, the rigorous yet organic pianist who headlines elsewhere in the festival, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, an exemplar of Motor City jazz—a constellation of staggering potential.