He might be the most in-demand trumpeter in jazz right now, but Ambrose Akinmusire doesn't act like a big deal. Standing onstage inside a jam-packed Jimmy Mak's Wednesday night, he rarely spoke, often stepping out of the spotlight to let the rest of his quintet shine. When he shuffled to the front, though, hugging the mic with his trumpet bell, there was no doubt whose show this was.

The group stuck mostly to cuts from Akinmusire's latest album, The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint. But they blew the tunes wide open: Tempos were kicked up, solos stretched out. The trumpeter's compositions go through more time changes than a math-rock band, but even at breakneck tempos, drummer Justin Brown barely broke a sweat. He swooped across the drum kit, producing waves of sound in lieu of cemented grooves. While Akinmusire offered up several searing solos, the ballads—floating, icy soundscapes like the elegiac "Rollcall For Those Absent" and the new tune "Diver Song"—were the show's high points, generous features for the trumpeter's heart-melting tone. And if not the best moment, one late-set ballad was surely the night's biggest surprise: The swing-era standard "Body and Soul," a classic served straight up.

“Please don’t post this to YouTube,” Akinmusire said as the band kicked into their final number. “Let’s keep the live experience what it is.” Looking back at the fuzzy, distorted iPhone video I took two songs in, it’s clear that he’s right—you really had to be there. 

All photos by Thomas Teal.