Kamasi Washington - Heaven And Earth

Label: Young Turks, 2018

Personnel includes: Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone; Dontae Winslow: trumpet; Ryan Porter: trombone; Patrice Quinn: vocals; Cameron Graves: piano; Brandon Coleman: keyboards; Miles Mosley: bass; Thundercat: bass; Ronald Bruner Jr.: drums; Tony Austin: drums; Robert Searight: drums; and more.

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Kamasi Washington’s new double-disc Heaven And Earth boasts a sound that is completely identifiable with the saxophonist’s previous creations, but definitely doesn't match them in terms of grooviness and excellence. Catching up with today’s musical trends, Kamasi combines traditional jazz and retro-funk elements with contagious beats and synth-infused layers. Occasionally, on top of it, there are heavy string orchestrations and chants carried out with a luxuriant opulence that may or not affect the existing idea of nostalgia.

Perhaps the best illustrators of this concept are the openers of each disc: “Fists Of Fury”, the theme of a Bruce Lee movie from the 70s, where he adds his personal stamp through hot samba rhythms and pungent funky bass lines; and “The Space Travelers Lullaby”, whose orchestration feels dismal and dense.

An Afro-Latin backbeat drives Freddie Hubbard’s hooky and hallucinatory “Hub-Tones”, here reshaped with mellifluous post-bop riffery and astounding improvisations.

Can You Hear Him” is one of the many incursions into jazz-funk, but in the case, spiced with neo-soul rhythms and spatial synth sounds. A similar ambiance is created on “The Invisible Youth”, which shows off a surprisingly turbulent avant-garde intro before fixating the definitive pace. These numbers differ from “Connections”, where soul jazz and smooth funk merge in the interest of a relaxed, breezy flow that is regularly interrupted by dreamlike orchestral passages.

Artfully integrating melody, groove, and spirited motifs in his improvisations, the bandleader builds in intensity to eventual cathartic effect on tunes like “Song For The Fallen”, a piece marked by puissant instrumental layers; “The Psalmist”, a deep funk exercise penned by trombonist Terry Porter; and “Show Us The Way”, a wonderful modal engagement in spirituality.

The rhythmic hip-hop energy of “Street Fighter Mas”, featuring Snarky Puppy’s drummer Robert Searight, diverges from the syncopated Afro-Brazilian rhythms of “Vi Lua Vi Sol”, which falls under a futuristic crossover jazz. Both pieces convey strong melodies that resurface and are developed with a sense of meaningfulness.

Patrice Quinn comes to the forefront with her voice and lyrics on “Testify” and “Journey”, two easy-listening songs that, leaning on the soul and gospel from the ‘70s, respectively, aim to reach a broader set of listeners.

Even not venturing into new ground, Kamasi remains with an intact and eclectic vision. Even expecting more from this album, I found that the connection of the group as a whole is never put into question.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Can You Hear Him ► 03 (disc1) - Hub Tones ► 07 (disc2) - Show Us The Way