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Ambrose Akinmusire, Colston Hall; Roberto Fonseca, St George’s

April 2, 2012

Interesting to be at two gigs in a week which came from tours which were widely reviewed, and seem to have been universally well-received. Young trumpet ace Akinmusire has certainly had loads of critical praise for his Blue note recording, and there is something of a critical consensus that his quintet is a state of the art contemporary jazz group. Comments about the Bristol gig here, here and (especially) here, are pretty much in line with this.

I’ll go along with everyone else – he is a bit special, and so is the band – and also with the suggestion from two of the other reviewers that this may not have been their best night. That is not so much because of the edginess that crept in, but the way things took a while to gel, to my ear. The opener was impressive, but slightly dry, in the way of super-competent US ensembles who like to play full-out post bop where everyone goes at the job full-tilt.

There was plenty of contrast with that later, though, especially in duets between trumpet and piano and – as an encore – trumpet and drums. Akinmusire’s synthesis of trumpet styles is not unique, but he has a great deal of music left to make and deserves his time in the critical spotlight, even if it leaves a slight temptation to list other trumpeters, young and old, equally worth attending to. But they weren’t in Bristol, so it was great that he came to play for us, and drew a decent crowd. Good to hear Robert Mitchell, equally impressive, in the brief opening piano trio set as well.

Roberto Fonseca (representative review here) was at least as enjoyable, even though I don’t think his current project quite works as intended. A Cuban virtuoso exploring African connections throws up lots of interesting possibilities – and Fonseca’s shifting ensemble seems to pursue them all at once. Much of the time it might have benefitted from reducing the percussionists from one to three, as happened at the end when the pianist duetted with the charismatic Baba Sissoko. And while I’m being curmudgeonly, the sparkling Kora playing of Sekou Kouyate was also a bit stuck on, and Sissoko’s acoustic string sounds sat oddly alongside electric guitar. The sax and (especially) flute playing of Javier Zalba and the six string electric bass of Yandy Martinez seemed to fit in better with Fonseca’s concept. But the leader is such a prodigious talent, and performs with such infectious enthusiasm that these small reservations mattered little. A high energy evening – and a fascinating contrast with Tord Gustavsen the week before. Fonseca’s mission is to play all the notes Tord leaves out!


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