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Royole FlexPai Review: Hands-on

The Royole FlexPai is the first flexible phone, but it shows that we still have a long way to go before bending your phone becomes routine
Should I Buy The Royole FlexPai?
‘Fun but flawed’ is really the only sensible reaction to the FlexPai right now. The foldable display tech is genuinely impressive, but you can’t escape the feeling that it’s not quite there yet.
Laggy software, a plasticky finish, and worrying evidence of screen burn mean that right now the FlexPai feels like a sign of where phones are going - but proof that they’re not there just yet.

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Ambrose Akinmusire - Origami Harvest Music Album Reviews

Joining the Mivos Quartet’s strings with rapper Kool A.D. and a traditional jazz ensemble, the Oakland trumpeter crafts suite-like compositions that grapple with structural racism and state violence.

Ever since his 2014 album The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire has made patient development seem exciting, whether as bandleader or playing a sideman role. He has a lot of tools at his disposal on his roundabout path to dazzlement. In solos, the nimbleness of his phrasing and his steady tone control are immediately apparent, even when the overall shape of what he’s crafting might seem hard to fathom. Then, at last, he might linger over a few select notes, putting them through a range of timbres and moods, or flash a showy shift in dynamic power, creating a sense of drama further accentuated by his having held back.

Akinmusire also clearly enjoys the idea of the ensemble as a concept. On The Imagined Savior, he added a diverse range of guest vocalists, plus a string quartet, to an instrumental core familiar to fans of post-bop jazz. His latest record pursues a similar impulse. This time, the stylistically varied group of collaborators includes the cutting-edge Mivos Quartet as his string section, while the rapper Kool A.D. is the sole guest vocalist over the opening trio of lengthy, suite-like compositions.

This grouping is extravagantly strange, even for Akinmusire. The onetime Das Racist emcee’s blunted-out free verse and screwball non sequiturs aren’t an obvious match for the contemplative style of a composer who gives his albums titles like When the Heart Emerges Glistening. Sometimes the collision doesn't pay off. As Giovanni Russonello notes, a recent sexual misconduct claim made against A.D.—and his own response—makes his continued reliance on freestyle tics like “pussies get wetter” seem ill-advised. When this phrase comes out of nowhere (as it tends to do), it’s difficult to tell if the emcee is mocking a trend in rap—or simply perpetuating it. The air of poetic abstraction on the album doesn’t clear anything up.

But elsewhere, the contrast in styles works more successfully. On the opening track “a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie,” a strangely dry production effect on A.D.’s voice makes it sound as if recorded in another studio, and grafted on to the more natural-sounding acoustic of the string quartet and jazz combo. This is the first movement in what comes to seem like a purposeful progression. Over the 38 minutes that A.D. shares the stage with the strings, Akinmusire, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and pianist Sam Harris, there is a gradual sense of convergence among the players. By the end of that first track, the boom-bap influence on Gilmore’s playing seems sympathetic to A.D.’s sound. During the following song, “miracle and streetfight,” Akinmusire joins in this same energy, firing off a steady stream of riffs, after a powerhouse Gilmore solo.

On this track, Kool A.D.’s flow doesn’t sound as though voiced from a remove, which helps underline some of his more politically evocative lines. (“Actively looking for escape routes/Gaze at the starry sky/The moon/The tombs… of the buried ones.”) Even the re-entrance of the string quartet, at the end of the piece’s fourth minute, has the feel of alarm.

The album’s third piece, “Americana / the garden waits for you to match her wilderness,” has a slower tempo and a gentler melodic profile, with Harris occasionally incorporating G-funk slides between notes on a keyboard. Kool A.D. reprises some of his earlier freestyle fragments, but in a calmer voice, over stretches of minimalist repetition in the piano and strings, which provides a sense of closure for his stretch on the record.

Yet the rapper’s abstract influence can even be felt even when he’s no longer in the booth—particularly on the track “Free, White and 21” (a reference to a vintage cinematic catchphrase of privilege). On previous albums, Akinmusire has dedicated tracks to African-Americans killed by police. On his debut for Blue Note, he fashioned a memorial for Oscar Grant; on his follow-up, he incorporated a longer list of names in his “Rollcall for those Absent.” Here, though, the mourning takes on a more experimental quality. The names of the dead are whispered with real solemnity. But in the background, Akinmusire—credited for all the voices—bleats out higher-pitched vocalizations that sound distressed in a different way, regarding the body count.

This combination of vocal timbres makes for a more bleakly ironized memorial. Though when the American present requires a near-constant state of mourning on this topic, having recourse to multiple registers can be healthy. In these moments, Akinmusire’s decision to work with artists like Kool A.D. and the Mivos Quartet seems less like the product of a personal creative challenge than an impulse to remind us of the range of worthy ideas that unusual collaborations might yet produce.


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