Listening to “Hooded procession (read the names outloud),” the closing track on acclaimed jazz trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire’s new record on the tender spot of every calloused moment, it’s difficult not to think of “Rollcall for Those Absent,” from his stunning 2014 album The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint. On “Rollcall,” over eerie, hovering notes, a child’s voice reads out the names of the dead. Halfway through the song, Trayvon Martin’s name comes up; the child reads his name three times.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the police, which follows the unjust deaths of so many other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, it is impossible to hear the phrase “read the names outloud” and not think of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin – especially given Akinmusire’s past work. Though the new album was recorded before George Floyd’s death, systematic racism and police violence is, tragically, nothing new. Unlike “Rollcall for Those Absent,” “Hooded procession (read the names outloud)” has no vocals – only minimal, mournful Fender Rhodes piano, reminiscent of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ambient work. The song is all the more mournful in light of George Floyd’s murder.

Discussing the new album, recorded with his longtime quartet – featuring Justin Brown on drums, Sam Harris on piano and Harish Raghavan on bass – Akinmusire said he was interested in exploring the essence of the blues, though not so much musically as philosophically and spiritually. In the end, he says, “The blues is about resilience.” Though on the tender spot of every calloused moment is more in the vein of post-bop and avant-garde jazz than blues as a musical genre, Akinmusire evokes the spirit of the blues, conjuring sorrow and resilience and speaking to the experience of being Black in America.

The opening track “Tide of Hyacinth” embodies resilience compositionally, calling to mind Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata, whose finale is famous for its turbulence and its demand on performers. “Tide of Hyacinth” demonstrates a kindred restlessness and intensity, at times sounding as if it’s being pulled in all directions from within, all the while holding together rather than collapsing in on itself. Akinmusire’s trumpet and Harris’s piano, for all their storminess, maintain a tenuous equilibrium as the song exhales. From the beginning of the record, the players exhibit the resilience it takes to weather the storm. There’s something sublime about it – it evokes the dizzying feeling of looking down from a great height.

The record is not all storm, however, demonstrating an incredible stylistic and tonal range, quieter moments counterbalancing the chaos. “Yessss,” whose calm immediately follows the clamor of “Tide of Hyacinth,” features Akinmusire’s smoothest, most thoughtful trumpet tones alongside Raghavan’s tactile, gripping bass bowing. “reset (quiet victories&celebrated defeats)” is a complicated work of rumination on the meaning of victory and defeat. The track teeters on eerie trumpet squeals, settles in places that sound unsettled, and in the end, lands on piano chords that sound triumphant and defeated at the same time. It’s a song that evokes profound exhaustion and sorrow, which, given Akinmusire’s subject matter, is all too appropriate. The record plumbs the depths of sorrow, exhaustion and, ultimately, resilience – in the spirit of the blues, in the mourning of the dead and in the struggle for justice.

Akinmusire’s project – throughout his career and on this album in particular – is, in part, one of memory. Not only does he remember the fallen on songs like “Rollcall for Those Absent,” “the lingering velocity of the dead’s ambitions” (from 2018’s Origami Harvest) and, most recently, “Hooded procession (read the names outloud),” but he also honors those who came before him, the courage-teachers of art. Accordingly, on the tender spot of every calloused moment features tributes to the composer Roscoe Mitchell, a mentor of Akinmusire’s – and, most recently, a 2020 NEA Jazz Master – as well as the jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who was known for fusing jazz, hip-hop and soul, and whose untimely death in 2018 rocked the jazz community. The song “Roy” is full of love, expanding on “The Lord’s Prayer” hymn and progressing at a stately, unhurried pace. It’s the kind of elegy that evokes joy alongside sadness.

We already knew Akinmusire was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters working today, but his new record feels particularly necessary in the current moment. on the tender spot of every calloused moment strikes a beautiful balance between acknowledging and mourning the past and facing the future with resilience rather than despair, all the while recognizing how difficult that can be.

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