Ambrose Akinmusire's challenging fourth album for Blue Note (and sixth overall), 2018's Origami Harvest, is an ambitious work that finds the trumpeter blending seemingly disparate elements -- including spoken word, classical chamber music, free improvisation, and hip-hop rhythms -- into a textured if often laborious mix. The album was born out of a commission for curators Judd Greenstein of Manhattan's Ecstatic Music Festival and Kate Nordstrum of St. Paul's Liquid Music Series. They dared Akinmusire to bring to fruition his "craziest idea," and he did, crafting what are best described as evocative soundscapes. Helping to fill out these soundscapes are fellow Bay Area native rapper Victor Vazquez (aka Kool A.D.), Brooklyn-based Mivos Quartet, pianist Sam Harris, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. For jazz listeners, or for those who liked Akinmusire's previous albums like 2017's live A Rift in Decorum, Origami Harvest may be a frustrating experience. While there are moments of inventive soloing here, they are rare. More often, as in the opening "A Blooming Bloodfruit in a Hoodie," Akinmusire works to punctuate A.D.'s spoken word sections, fluttering and sparring with delicate urgency underneath the rapper before finally launching into his own synth and drum-backed solos late in the track. In fact, he barely plays any trumpet on "Americana/The Garden Waits..." and "Particle/Spectra," the latter of which showcases a soulful vocal from LMBRCK_T. Nonetheless, both songs are deeply layered and cinematically constructed, moving from ruminative classical chamber sections to spacy funk midsections before finally pulling back into restrained string endings. All of this is thoughtfully composed, and there are brilliant moments that definitely grab your attention. Particularly compelling is "Miracle and Streetfight," in which Akinmusire's trumpet surfs against the dissonance of Mivos Quartet's sharp string waves as A.D. lays down his laconic invective. Equally engrossing is Akinmusire's fiery opening volley on "The Lingering Velocity of the Dead's Ambitions," in which he squawks and moans with tight-eyed intensity as Mivos Quartet play a buzzing crunch of sustained bass notes and piercing accents. There is much to admire on Origami Harvest, including Akinmusire's scoring for Mivos Quartet, who offer a vibrant harmonic counterpoint to his trumpet playing. Similarly, Harris and Gilmore offer their own layered asides, with Gilmore dropping into circular trap-style beats throughout and Harris shifting from warm piano to unearthly synthesizer as needed. That said, the spotlight given to A.D. deters somewhat from the more interesting musical juxtapositions. The rapper is featured on at least half of the tracks here, a fact that lends Origami Harvest the overall feeling of being more of an avant-garde spoken word album than an instrumental jazz album. Furthermore, whether it's A.D.'s flat delivery or the way he often seems to float over the music, disconnected from the underlying structure, his presence threatens to test one's patience. Origami Harvest may not work for everybody, but for those who take the time to explore the unexpected bends and folds in Akinmusire's construction, a wealth of discoveries can be found.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar