Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (Young Turks, 2018)

Tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington is one of the most high profile musicians on the jazz scene, but he is more than someone who straddles the hip-hop and modern jazz spheres, he is a musician that creates situations where aspects of spiritual jazz, funk, soundtracks and soundscapes create a broad fantasia of sound and color. His 2015 album The Epic was a massive three disc sprawl, and this is in that vein, essentially a double disc with an additional full EP called The Choice tucked into the package. The music continues to evolve, with aspects of progressive jazz that look back to the music that Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders recorded in the late sixties and early seventies, while taking a wide angle view of what that music means today. The use of large percussion sections and strings with strong and prominent bass and drums give the music a full sound that is bursting at the scene with information. "Fists of Fury," adds an intriguing hint of cinematic grandeur to the proceedings, with the Bruce Lee theme played in a manner that sets up vocalists for their declarative statements over pulsating musical accompaniment and a incorporating a muscular tenor saxophone solo. The folding in of spiritual jazz also comes to the forefront on the first track of the second disc, "The Space Travelers Lullaby," with a touch of Sun Ra and a powerful and propulsive groove that pushes the music forward. It may be too easy to try to parse the music on this album and within the individual tracks, looking at this complex and undulating music for the sum of its parts. The band is a large one, but not in the big band mode, a core group of nine musicians along with another ten pieces that carve out the orchestral arrangements, it's a massive undertaking. Washington's jazz bona fides are beyond doubt, coming under the wing of composer and arranger Gerald Wilson and others a a young man, and he uses this not only on the wide ranging melding of jazz, blues and rhythm and blues on "Can You Hear Him" and "Street Fighter Mas," but also a spirited take on Freddie Hubbard's "Hub Tones." The extra disc throws a further wildcard, producing a nine minute meditation on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” that folds bubblegum pop into the crucible of different and diverse musical elements. There's a lot to unpack here, but it is a worthwhile endeavor, Washington's music is thoughtful and forward thinking and worthy of the effort. Heaven And Earth - amazon.com

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