Ambrose Akinmusire, Owl Song Review
Navigating Soundscapes: A Journey Through Ambrose Akinmusire’s Owl Song
By Nolan DeBuke
Ambrose Akinmusire’s Owl Song brings a fresh sound to contemporary jazz, weaving minimalistic elegance, atmospheric depth, and emotive storytelling throughout its eight tracks. Joined by Bill Frisell on guitar and Herlin Riley on drums, Akinmusire crafts an album that resonates deeply with introspection and innovation.
In Owl Song, Akinmusire charts a course that diverges from many contemporary jazz trends, echoing the pioneering spirit of jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter. While much of modern jazz explores increased complexity and fusion with other genres, Akinmusire takes a markedly different path. His focus on minimalism, ambiance, and emotional depth recalls how Mingus and Shorter, in their respective eras, also chose directions that went against the prevailing currents of jazz. This divergence is a stylistic choice and a thematic exploration that adds a unique voice to the ongoing dialogue in jazz. Akinmusire’s album, therefore, is a statement that contributes to the rich development of jazz and reminds us that innovation can also mean exploring the power of understatement and introspection.
Owl Song represents a pivotal moment in Ambrose Akinmusire’s evolving discography, illuminating the trajectory from his debut Prelude… To Cora through the innovative Origami Harvest. Akinmusire, known for his adventurous blend of jazz with various genres, takes a discernible turn towards introspection and minimalism in this album. It contrasts with his previous works’ dense, genre-blending compositions, reflecting a maturation and refinement in his artistic vision. This album, focusing on the emotive power of simplicity and atmosphere, shows Akinmusire’s versatility. He demonstrates that artistic growth can also mean a thoughtful reduction to the essence of musical expression, making Owl Song a significant chapter in his ongoing narrative as a contemporary jazz artist.
The opening track, “Owl Song 1,” sets the tone for the album. Riley’s delicate use of brushes on the snare, coupled with a simple bass drum pattern, lays down a subtle and rhythmically engaging foundation. Frisell’s guitar work, marked by its ambient and folk-like quality, builds a serene soundscape around Akinmusire’s warm-toned trumpet. The track exemplifies the trio’s remarkable communication, introducing listeners to a style where each note and pause is laden with meaning. The song also presents the album’s recurring theme of exploring deep emotions through minimalistic expressions, setting the stage for a journey of introspective discovery.
In “Weighted Corners,” the ensemble shifts gears slightly, with Frisell opening the piece with an arpeggiated figure. Riley’s drumming, infused with Afro-Cuban and tribal influences, adds a vibrant layer to the track. Akinmusire’s solo is a highlight, showcasing his ability to build upon simple themes to create a narrative that is both accessible and profound. The track is further enriched by Frisell’s textural play, weaving sampled guitar parts into the fabric of the song.
“Flux Fuelings” is a rhythmic delight. Riley’s catchy Afro-Cuban patterns on the drums set the tone, while Frisell’s looping guitar parts serve as the mainstay of the piece. Akinmusire’s trumpet, with its sustained and round notes, adds a lyrical quality that is both haunting and beautiful. The interplay between the trio in the latter part of the track, especially Akinmusire’s interaction with Frisell’s guitar, showcases a less-is-more approach that is deeply engaging. Akinmusire’s thoughtful soloing backdrop and Riley’s dynamic rhythms further develop the album’s narrative, exploring the balance between complexity and simplicity, much like the juxtaposition of introspective thought amidst life’s vibrant rhythms.
Throughout Owl Song, the trio navigates the realms of West Coast-influenced Jazz, blending minimalist sensibilities with an atmospheric sound that harkens to the genre’s roots while pushing for new inspiration. The album successfully achieves Akinmusire’s introspective vision for the album as a composer and bandleader, offering a fresh perspective on jazz that is reflective of its rich history and forward-looking in its execution.
Akinmusire, Frisell, and Riley have created a work that speaks to the soul, reminding us of the power of jazz as a medium for expression and connection. Owl Song is a must-listen for anyone seeking a deep, contemplative, and ultimately rewarding musical experience.