Monday, June 22, 2015

Kamasi Washington - The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015)

Much has been made of saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s association with hip-hop luminaries on records and on tour, but his jazz pedigree is equally strong. Graduating from UCLA as well as Gerald Wilson’s big band prepared him for just about everything. He uses all of those influences and his own style on this appropriately titled three CD jazz band plus choir and strings extravaganza.  The opening  “Change of the Guard” features heavy saxophone and McCoy Tyner influenced piano, with choir and strings that recall Alice Coltrane’s early 70’s Impulse Records recordings. Using guitar against lavish orchestral backdrop, Washing builds a solid foundation for a powerfully built and occasionally overblown solo that recalls Pharoah Sanders, before returning the choir to the front juxtaposed against thrashing drums. “Final Thought” has a keyboard opening before the gales of piano and saxophone that have notions of the great early McCoy Tyner live albums Enlightenment and Atlantis allowing Washington to really double down and show what a deep and powerful musician he is. The music he is hot and fast, and coming in at 6:32 it is the shortest track on the album: pithy, fast and a true highlight. After that “The Rhythm Changes” throws us a curveball with subtle female vocals and a spacious trumpet solo, before the swelling strings and choir swallow everything up. “Miss Understanding” puts Washington back in the driver’s seat with slamming saxophone over the choir and hot drums and some challenging trumpet. There is a fine bass and drum pulse and an especially inspired bass feature. The drums and bass also feature prominently on “The Magnificent 7” moving on their own and supporting Washington along with and muscular piano, which cut through the musical thicket. There is a very interesting arrangement of “Cherokee” with soulful vocals remaking the bebop flag-waver into a funky soul jazz piece. Washington bides his time and shows some some very confident saxophone playing, caressing the melody along with fine rhythm accompaniment. In the end this is an exhausting album, and while he doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it is an admirable and audacious one. Kamasi Washington is an excellent saxophonist and his arrangements put jazz, funk and the kitchen sink into the blender with mostly successful results. The Epic -

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