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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

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RATH: For a jazz trumpet player, you could not be more on top of the world than Ambrose Akinmusire. The 32-year-old is looking good on the cover of this month's DownBeat, and he's managed to please the jazz critics and connect with audiences. It goes without saying that Akinmusire can tear it up on the trumpet. But you don't hear that so much on his new album, "the imagined savior is far easier to paint." Here, the trumpet is more often in a supporting role, often behind some amazing singers.

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RATH: That's Cold Specks.

AMBROSE AKINMUSIRE: Yeah.

RATH: It's amazing. And people may not realize how hard it is to play a trumpet with a singer because of the kind of strength you have to have and...

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah.

RATH: It's wild the way you're playing along underneath her.

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah. It's not so hard for me because I'm totally influenced by female vocalists. You know, I'm really, really into the female voice. It's sort of in the same range as the trumpet. You know, these vocalists in particular are - their thing is so strong. When they step into it, you're definitely into their world, in a beautiful way, not in a bad way. Not in a limiting way.

RATH: What was it like for them stepping into your world where you have these narratives of like the song "(ed)" with Becca. That's Ed in parenthesis, right...

AKINMUSIRE: Yes.

RATH: ...the story of - who is that?

AKINMUSIRE: OK. Ed is this older gentleman that I see every single day. He lives on my block. He's a homeless guy. And he would go to this church that's across the street from my house every weekend, and they would feed him. And he would save money throughout the week or throughout the month to pay them. And I found that really, really inspiring.

RATH: What's interesting that - I mean, maybe it doesn't seem strange to you, but Becca Stevens is not the voice I would necessarily associate with this man, with this character just - that you described him to me.

AKINMUSIRE: Right.

RATH: But it works.

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah. You know, well, I've known Becca for a long time. And I wrote her, and I said: Hey, Becca, can you write a tune for my next album? And she said: Sure. What do you want? And I said: Can you just write it from the perspective of a homeless man? And she said: OK, great. And she produced this.

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RATH: This album has a very different feeling from your last. There's a broad palette of sounds, though, that you're using, like the - adding a string quartet and the guitarist.

AKINMUSIRE: For me, the thing that attracts me to the string quartet is the ability to sustain a note. It sounds like something really, really simple, but in a jazz quintet - you know, with trumpets, saxophone, bass, piano and drums - you know, you can't really sustain a note for longer than maybe 30, 45 seconds. But with strings, you can manipulate time that way. It's like you can press slow motion all of a sudden.

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RATH: It's really interesting hearing that bass blend - I mean, obviously, it blends nicely with the string quartet but that's...

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah.

RATH: ...it's a different kind of voice, different feeling.

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah. And that was kind of the point. He represents king of like the rough part of the image that I had for that tune. So the image for that tune is I imagined these three women wearing white just kind of spinning on the edge of a cliff, and one of them is holding a red balloon. And so the bass represents the cliff, and the other string instruments represent the people that are spinning. And it builds and builds, and, you know, at the end, the balloon is inflated.

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RATH: One more thing. Can you talk about the complicated title of this album?

AKINMUSIRE: It's going to be very short.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: It'll take as much time to explain then it will to read the title? The title is "the imagined savior is far easier to paint."

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah.

RATH: What does it mean, Ambrose?

AKINMUSIRE: It means something very specific to me, but I've kind of promised myself that I wasn't going to go and tell people what it means for me because I don't want it to become one thing. I think there's enough room within it for people to interpret it for themselves.

RATH: So you've got to listen to the album and wrestle with the question on your own.

AKINMUSIRE: Exactly.

RATH: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

AKINMUSIRE: Yeah.

RATH: Ambrose Akinmusire, thank you so much.

AKINMUSIRE: Oh, my pleasure.

RATH: It's been a real pleasure talking with you.

AKINMUSIRE: Thank you.

RATH: Ambrose Akinmusire's new album is called "the imagined savior is far easier to paint."

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RATH: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. And you can follow us on Twitter @nprwatc. We're back next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

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