Closing his performance at Yoshi's Oakland on Tuesday night, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire shared one gripe about life as a celebrated wunderkind of the jazz scene with his hometown crowd. "People shouldn't be shocked when I tell them I'm from Oakland."
It was one of several moments throughout the evening that gave the buttoned-up club the intimate feeling of a homecoming. Uncles, teachers, church members, and old Berkeley High friends helped fill every seat for the 28-year-old's first Bay Area show since signing with Blue Note Records in June. They gave an enthusiastic applause when he said it's good to be home, volunteered details on the relationship status of drummer and fellow Berkeley High alumnus Justin Brown (single), and inspired confessions about song titles ("Tear-Stained Suicide Manifesto," for instance? "Let me explain," Akinmusire said. "It's not about me").
In addition to the exceptionally gifted Brown, the band included Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Walter Smith III on tenor sax. "Confessions to my Unborn Daughter" began the show, appropriately enough, with a warm call of the trumpet in the celebratory sound of a blessing to a new dawn.
Throughout the one-and-a-half hour set, each young musician exhibited his own mature talent. In "With Love," Walter Smith's powerful solo alone used the tenor sax like a plea of forgiveness to a lover when the apology comes too late, at first with slow sincerity, then with passion and pain, until the rest of the instruments joined in a note of empathy. With such turbulent emotion sustained over a lush groove, you could understand why, as Akinmusire explained, he wrote the song with R&B singer Bilal in mind.
Akinmusire had nothing to prove to a crowd that has been following his music since, as he said, "I was thirteen years old, and you told me that I sounded good when I didn't." But with artistry that could make his instrument cry like a lone voice in an alley or sing like an opera singer clearing her throat, Akinmusire's performance was a promising preview of his Blue Note debut, which the band will begin recording next week.