I added this review to the tail end of my last post, but realized that it probably belongs here as its own entry. If all goes according to plan, music reviews will become a more common occurrence at Lubricity. If I’m going to write about jazz, after all, I can only avoid writing about the actual music for so long. So here it is, the first of many more musical musings to come:
First off, I’ll say that I had a great time. I had forgotten how rewarding it can be to check out a show with other people who enjoy the music. The hour-long trip back to New Jersey certainly went faster than usual, with so much to talk about after the show.
Energetic, thoughtful and always moving forward, Akinmusire’s trumpet playing was virtuosic but not showy. His thoughts were musical, and his tone — especially in the lower register of the instrument — was positively stunning. His quintet mirrored these qualities; on the other hand, the group also shared his occasional penchant for detached phrasing and often lacked melodic connectedness. The set consisted almost entirely of Akinmusire’s compositions, all of which featured quiet, minimalistic melodies that shifted organically into group improvisation. The quintet played the first three songs with no break in between them, giving a consistent texture to most of the performance. Alto saxophonist Logan Richardson played an especially beautiful solo on the first number, building subtly towards a powerful climax. Akinmusire took a brief pause after the third tune to invite 19-year-old tenor saxophonist Adam Larson to join him for the final song. Larson demonstrated incredibly impressive technique, but — unlike many young prodigies — brought a personal musical sensibility as well. Akinmusire described it as a “unique searching quality” when he introduced him. Larson looked like he was trying really hard, though, and the pained expressions he wore distracted from his excellent performance.
Still, the star of the show was Gerald Clayton. More than anyone else, his piano playing always held the ensemble together. The group did at times struggle to blend together into a cohesive sound, and Clayton’s deftly placed chords oftentimes felt like the thread that kept everything from spiraling into chaos. That sense of pushing against the edge — but not quite going over it — was one of the most interesting parts of the group; without Clayton, that sense of musical restraint could have easily been lost. His solos were never flashy but always in the pocket — even when the “pocket” was barely being established by bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown. As Patrick pointed out after the show, it seemed like they were taking turns playing time rather than locking into a groove for an extended period.
The experience certainly left me with a good vibe, especially as a reminder that I don’t have to practice trombone 40 hours a week to be able to enjoy the music that I love. It also served as a reminder that it’s time to track down some more of Gerald Clayton‘s work — this guy is going to be a force in the music world for many years to come.