Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet mesmerizes chapel with jazz

Last Friday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m., the Lawrence University Memorial Chapel experienced a performance by the critically acclaimed Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet. The quartet, composed of one pianist, one bassist, one drummer and, of course, the namesake of the quartet himself—Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet—performed approximately an hour and a half of jazz without an intermission.

From my view of the chapel stage on the center balcony, I thought I saw the lights in the auditorium actually dim a little as Akinmusire and his counterparts walked out onstage to enthusiastic applause. A cool trumpet note started what can only be described as a seamless performance. The image that came to my mind for the first piece was a misty morning dawn, given color by the different tones of the trumpet. During Akinmusire’s solo moments, the pianist, drummer and bassist quietly and almost reverently played the accompaniment, and in turn, Akinmusire put his instrument down and walked over to the side of the stage when it was time for one of the other instruments to shine.

The smooth, velvety music and the lighting in the chapel all contributed to the relaxed and pensive atmosphere that is quintessential to jazz. Looking around, I saw several people in the front row of the balcony sitting in relatively similar positions, resting their heads on their hands with their elbows leaning against the railing, quietly mesmerized by the performers onstage. In truth, much of the music passed by in a very slow-motion blur, even though the melody was shocking at times and contained some very high trumpet lines. After a while, I too succumbed to the music’s gentle spell and became one of the audience members with their heads rested on folded hands, thoughtfully staring into space.

The concert program said that the pieces would be announced from the stage, but after at least half an hour had passed and no one in the quartet showed any signs of pausing for introductions, I assumed that the quartet had just forgotten about this detail. It sure seemed as though they had lost themselves in their music and become oblivious to the passage of time.

Akinmusire finally did stop to introduce himself and his band and announce the names of the pieces the quartet had just played a little over halfway through the performance. In a voice that remarkably resembled the timbre of his trumpet, Akinmusire listed out piece titles: “Roll Call,” “Those We Fight” and “Diver’s Song.” Afterwards, Akinmusire and his quartet performed one more song, “Trumpet Sketch,” which was chaotic and dissonant and gave Akinmusire the opportunity to improvise. Once the quartet had finished performing, they received such roaring applause that they came back out onstage to perform an encore piece.

I left the Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet concert with less of a memory of specific musical events and more of a general impression of tranquility. I do not know if this feeling is what Akinmusire and his fellow musicians would have wanted for me to get out of their concert, but it was my experience nonetheless. At any rate, music that makes one feel any feeling at all is good music simply because it elicits a reaction, and I am always happy to listen to music that leaves me feeling calm, collected and satisfied.