Track Review: “Asiam (Joan)” by Ambrose Akinmusire
Now that I am on the western side of the Atlantic once more, this tiger is ready to reengage in writing about music,from which I have taken a long and mostly unintentional hiatus. Part of this is because I buy and listen to less music than I did in years past. Another part is that the political content of the blog often dictates that I write about books or events rather than exploring albums or songs. That said, 2014 did bring a remarkable selection of songs to me, some of which rank as new favorites. One of those is “Asiam (Joan),” the middle track of Ambrose Akinmusire’s poignant The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint, which took its rightful place near the top of many jazz enthusiasts’ lists of the best album of the year.
Singer Theo Bleckmann, a fascinating artist in his own right, begins the song with a pair of tender verses. The title of the song comes from these lyrics, pronounced “as I am.” Its words are devotional, affirming the value of the self “as I am,” despite the fears and anxieties that plague the narrator of the song. Meanwhile, pianist Sam Harris accompanies the song with a spare arrangement, which eventually swells into a full band playing––Akinmusire’s soft trumpet, the piano, drums rumbling in the background, and eerie vocals from Bleckmann. No longer verbalizing, Bleckmann’s presence on the song transforms from a reassuring voice to a much more plaintive one, working with the trumpet as the track unfolds over the remainder of the song before a reprise finishes things off.
In context, the song has a much less individualistic connotation that if listened to alone. Much of the rest of the album contemplates social struggles, working in the tradition of Charles Mingus in particular. It’s self-affirmation with a communal bent, and it leads into the almost funereal second half of the album leaving the listener with an altered state of mind. A real gem of a song.