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


Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference

Label/Year: Young Turks, 2017

Lineup – Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone; Ryan Porter: trombone; Dontae Winslow: trumpet; Cameron Graves: piano; Brandon Coleman: keyboards; Miles Mosley: acoustic bass; Thundercat: electric bass; Ronald Bruner Jr.: drums; Tony Austen: drums.

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After the enormous acclamation received with the triple-album The Epic in 2015, LA saxophonist Kamasi Washington returns with Harmony of Difference, an EP that showcases six compositions deftly arranged to encompass such a different styles as post-bop, smooth jazz, psychedelic soul, funk, and gospel.

For this concise (total time is 31:54) yet impactful body of work he relies on many of the bandmates who helped him to conceive The Epic, namely, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, acoustic bassist Miles Mosley, electric bassist Thundercat, and drummers Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austen. Trumpeter Dontae Winslow is the new addition here, replacing Igmar Thomas, while leading vocalist Patrice Quinn joins the influential choir that enriches “Truth”, the 13-minute spacey opus that closes the record. Despite sharing an identical melody as the opening tune “Desire”, set as an ambient soul-jazz trance with chill-out harmonies and cool solos, this piece is expanded with additional sonic layers that include an 8-piece string section, guitar, vibraphone, flute, an extra sax (alto), and stately vocals. Embracing a fully-fledged symphonic poise, the tune revolves around the melody at first but speeds up conveniently for Kamasi’s solo, favorably challenged by guitarist Matt Haze’s pretty annotations and Graves’ responsive and diametrically opposed harmonic layouts. In the final section, ornamental guitar and dreamy horn ostinatos function as pigment intensifiers.

Only sinning for their too short duration, the remaining compositions trigger instant empathy and connection, revealing the strong bond between Kamasi and his peers. 

If “Humility” is a demonstrative spiritual exaltation suffused with plenty of joy and excitement and featuring fervent if succinct improvisations from piano, trumpet, and tenor, “Knowledge” is a seductive, danceable manifestation of the spirit, propelled by sweet-tempered funky bass lines and a fulfilling patterned rhythm. The improvisations belong to Ryan Porter and the bandleader.

Perspective” boasts an outlandish, hypnotic intro before settling in a zone dominated by R&B and retro funk. It will make you clap your hands. As usual, the melody in the chorus is simple and attractive, a procedure also followed on “Integrity”, an unanticipated 100% Brazilian samba song with cuíca sounds included and a hard-driving groove.

Kamasi Washington, whose music remains passionate and poignant, exteriorizes his musicality with feeling and manages to attract followers from opposite sides of the jazz spectrum. He does this with a deep understanding of the past and an eye in the future.

       Grade  A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Desire ► 03 - Knowledge ► 06 – Truth