Kamasi Washington – The Epic ★★★★ Recommended

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Brainfeeder BFCD05
Kamasi Washington (ts), Thundercat, Miles Mosley (b), Ronald Bruner Jr, Tony Austin, (d) Patrice Quinn (v), Ryan Porter (tb), Brandon Coleman and Cameron Graves (p, kys) plus strings. Rec. date not stated

The title is not to be taken lightly. In numbers it translates as: 3CDs; 17 songs; 32-piece orchestra; 20-piece choir; 10-piece band. With scale being such a defining feature of this music it is also worth noting that there are 172 minutes to contend with, and it is to Washington’s credit that the output is justified, first and foremost because the artistic ambition matches the sweeping production.

Known for his work with producer Flying Lotus and a member of the Los Angeles aggregation The West Coast Get Down, Washington is a player and composer with a penchant for long-form pieces in which melodic lines are ornate anthems wrapped in finely shaded orchestral threads. Although music industry marketeers will inevitably tag this as ‘spiritual jazz’ the dominant aesthetic thankfully avoids any of the sub-genre’s clichés, such is Washington’s desire to draw together references that are refreshingly disparate. In real terms that means that the all-important choral basis of the music – mostly sleek soprano lines that soar around the themes like a volley of flutes and piccolos – blends Horace Silver and Pharoah Sanders from the 1980s rather than 70s (think the former’s The Continuity Of Spirit and the latter’s Heart Is A Melody), while some of the rhythmic and harmonic content has the authoritative, dark-tolight stance of the great Horace Tapscott’s Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra. Washington’s own playing, with his dry, stark tone and concise, clenched phrasing is impressive, but the greatest achievement of this work is the newness that springs from a deep historical root.

Moving from hard swing to funk to some of the digital age sensibilities scoped out by Thundercat, this is an album of progressive present day thinking that willfully acknowledges its debt to the past, as befits the ongoing relationship between the two. So if there is a sample of a Malcolm X speech it is relevant to the current political debate: There’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim. There is something very right about the premise and execution of this work.

– Kevin Le Gendre