City Recital Hall, January 11
Had Ernest Rutherford not worked out how to split the atom science would only have had to wait until Ambrose Akinmusire came along. Where Rutherford used alpha particles Akinmusire uses something much more lethal: a trumpet. No other instrument seems to scythe through the air with such hurtling velocity and laser-like sharpness. The American must surely shatter particles in their millions every times he plays.
Add to the atom-splitting sound a facility on the instrument that has seldom (if ever) been equalled and a radiant imagination, and you can understand to why 31-year-old Akinmusire is such a force, and a commendable choice for Sydney Festival.
How unforgivable sad, then, that the sound should have been so compromised. Not the trumpet, itself, of course: that speared off the stage and impaled our ears when Akinmusire was nowhere near his microphone, let alone when trumpet bell and microphone became intimate. Walter Smith’s tenor saxophone and Sam Harris’s piano that were main casualties. At the outset it almost seemed as if they weren’t in the mix at all. Then Akinmusire and Harris played a duet called Regret No More, and the piano began to come into focus while the horn sighed and cried in utter desolation. Could Picasso’s Weeping Woman play trumpet it would sound like this.
A couple of pieces later Harris created a solo to live in the memory: a tumbling wash of variations on a single motif. Imagine tipping a little melody into white-water rapids and watching it be dashed and smashed without sinking.
Bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown churned the grooves into tumultuous waves that the trumpet scorched across, while the tenor – which we could finally hear by the last two pieces – dealt in short, stabbing phrases, like tongues of blue flame.
The varied repertoire was all penned by the leader with the exception of Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, rendered with ravishing beauty by a once-in-a-generation trumpeter.