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Album review: Ambrose Akinmusire's 'The Imagined Savior . . .'

When trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire released his Blue Note debut three years ago, “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” it felt as if his talents could take him anywhere. So, it makes sense that in crafting his follow-up, Akinmusire very nearly goes everywhere.

Engrossing, elusive and packed to its literal limits with ideas at 79 minutes, “The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint” beautifully takes Akinmusire’s distinctive tone to new realms, including slow-burning orchestral swells and convention-defying vocal collaborations that attempt to translate his vision into words.

Carried by Becca Stevens, the yearning “Our Basement (ed)” balances Akinmusire’s trumpet flares with an elliptical structure reminiscent of that of Kate Bush, and the plaintive “Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child (cyntonia brown)” features U.K-based singer-songwriter Cold Specks, who soars against a spare rhythm. In the prayer-like “Asiam,” a piece dedicated to Joni Mitchell, Theo Bleckmann stretches his voice to otherworldly heights alongside Akinmusire, whose tone twists both upward and inward.

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Inspired by vaudeville-era tap great John William Sublett, “Bubbles” tilts on bassist Harish Raghavan and pianist Sam Harris, and the slow-burning “Vartha” boasts an inspired venture from the group’s newest member, L.A.-based guitarist Charles Altura (who is part of Chick Corea’s latest band). Never wary of sharing the spotlight, Akinmusire doesn’t even appear in the orchestral churn of “Inflatedbyspinning.”

Akinmusire generally resists the swaggering shows of force that can mark some young talents, but the record is loaded with strikingly expressive highlights. Sawing violins give way to an aching tangle of trumpet, flute and strings on “The Beauty of Dissolving Portraits,” and the album closes with a 16-minute live showcase, “Richard (conduit).”

Akinmusire is trying to cover a lot of ground here, and it's not always easy to follow his wandering ear. Still, it’s engrossing to try, and there’s a familiar feeling that comes through each listen: Where will he go next?

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Ambrose Akinmusire

“The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint”

Three stars

(Blue Note)

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