When the final buzzer sounded at the NBA All-Star Game on February 20, it was the end of All-Star weekend in Cleveland but it was the opening bell for an all-star month of jazz. First came the March 3 appearance at Tri-C of the Jazz Gallery All-Stars (previewed here), a band that in every way lived up to its name. Starting Sunday, the action shifts to Bop Stop at the Music Settlement where Ambrose Akinmusire and Dr. Eddie Henderson, two of the leading voices of the jazz trumpet will appear in a three-day span. And that’s not all.
Akinmusire will be in Cleveland as part of a new trio, Trefoil, of pianist Kris Davis and drummer Gerald Cleaver, all-stars in their own right. The term supergroup is overused, but there’s no other way to describe this collaboration.
Look at the list of major jazz polls and awards and Kris Davis will be there. A stunningly original pianist and composer, the Canadian-born Davis is both a prized collaborator and a probing leader. Her latest release, in a collaborative quartet including saxophonist Walter Smith, III and legendary bassist Dave Holland is at the summit of creative mainstream playing. As a leader, Diatom Ribbons released on her own Pyroclastic label, was the Number One Jazz album of 2019 in the NPR Jazz Critics poll.
Detroit-born drummer Gerald Cleaver has propelled some of the most significant ensembles of the last three decades, including those lead by NEA Jazz Masters Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell, and the late saxophonist David S. Ware’s titanic quartet. Cleaver, who recently moved to the Bay Area, has his eyes on the music’s far horizons. His 2020 release “Signs” was an electroacoustic concept record, yet he can swing a band right off the bandstand all by himself. “I’m dyed-in-the-wool with the tradition,” Cleaver told Berkeleyside writer Andrew Gilbert. “Nobody knew I played straight ahead. Over the years I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do, and I have made more adventurous choices.”
Akinmusire’s musical career has brought him into the orbits of some of the most significant creators of improvised music in the Black American tradition. From his early association with alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman to his contribution to Kendrick Lamar’s game-changing recording To Pimp A Butterfly, Akinmusire has forged a style that is poetic and utterly original.
“What I love most about Ambrose’s playing–and I think it’s the goal of most jazz performers–is that it doesn’t matter if it’s heady jazz or a hip-hop record like Kendrick Lamar’s, he somehow sounds like himself no matter what setting he’s in.” said Bop Stop director Gabe Pollack, an Oberlin Conservatory-trained trumpet player himself. Pollack heard was impressed when he heard Akinmusire as a member of the SF Jazz Collective, but “in a small group setting, there’s going to be more dialogue,” he said.
And more exploration. The Bop Stop gig will be only the second live performance for Trefoil on a four-stop tour that will culminate next Thursday with a showcase performance at Knoxville’s storied Big Ears festival. Will Trefoil be a one-off or a long-term project? Time will tell, but it’s interesting to note that the band is touring with a recording engineer. Maybe we’ll hear those recordings and maybe we won’t, but the opportunity to hear Akinmusire, Davis and Cleaver live is one that can’t be missed. After all, how many chances to you get to see LeBron James, Steph Curry and Chris Paul on the same floor?
Trefoil, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gerald Cleaver, Kris Davis Sunday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. $25, available here.