Kamasi Washington – The Next Step in Jazz

Kamasi Washington – Los Angeles native, Jazz veteran, bandleader, composer, saxophone virtuoso – is bringing jazz to an epic next step in 2015.CCkuZeyW8AA5Z9I.jpg-large
Released in May, The Epic, by Kamasi Washington and The Next Step is a 173 minute, three disc jazz album of literally, epic proportions. The band features bandleader Kamasi Washington on Tenor saxophone alongside a trombone, a trumpet, piano, keyboards, two drummers playing full kits, upright acoustic bass, electric bass, full string orchestra and choir, with some tracks featuring lead vocalists. Think of a 20’s big band where every musician attended Julliard and John Coltrane rose from the dead and taught Kamasi how to blow the hell out of his horn. Oh and that same band is jamming in nearly every style of jazz.

Spanning the three discs that make up The Epic, Kamasi and his band pull together explosive bebop and hard bop jams, swing, Miles Davis-ish rock fusion, latin percussion, post-Coltrane modal double time swing, vocal ballads, and many more. With this fusion of jazz styles and use of instruments and collaborations with so many musicians, the end result is a time capsule of jazz’s greatest moments, dug up and brought into the modern times and even launched into the future.

The opening track of the album, “Change of the Guard”, sets the tone for The Epic with its strong, new sounding theme melody. The band sounds so tight from the get go that its easy to want to hear more and more of what these excellent musicians can play. The opening track also introduces one of the most passionate and moving and hypnotizing sounds on the album; the sound of Kamasi Washington’s solos. The man is a master of the tenor sax, and takes the solo on such dramatic highs and soothing lows. The chemistry of the band is perfect, the way they can build up the cacophony of the progression as the soloist, especially Kamasi, reaches a climax point in their solo. At many of these points on this track and throughout the album, Kamasi blows so much air through his horn that it honks and screeches and wails sounds that cut through the band and the air and the listeners ears. These moments made me cringe the first time i heard it, and i couldn’t tell if it was offensive or genius. It took no time to find out it was genius. These moments during Kamasi’s solos come from a deep part of his soul; its almost as if he he’s yelling, screaming through his horn. Its impressive, emotional, and nearly shocking during the first listen. Other track highlights include “The Message,” “Miss Understanding,” “The Rhythm Changes,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “The Next Step.”

Kamasi is impressive, but no musician in this band disappoints. The drumming is flawless; kind of what I’ve been wanting to hear in jazz my whole life. The pianos and other horns and even the pair of bass’ have phenomenal solo performances on this record, complimenting what Kamasi does as he complements what they do.

I could talk about this album a lot because it is so much music but I want to also mention that my love for this record did not stop at listening to it on repeat. Kamasi and The Next Step began an East Coast tour in mid August and I was able to catch two of the dates, one in Woodstock, NY, and again at the Blue Note here in Manhattan. The performance was mind blowing, electrifying, and inspiring, to put it simply. It was the greatest collection of musicians on one stage playing together that I’ve ever seen. Jaws were dropping in the audience on every song, applause lasted forever, people were in awe. Kamasi was even able to connect to the older generation in his futuristic performance by bringing his father on stage, a soulfully and nostalgically skilled flute player, to solo along with the band. It was moments like playing with his father, featuring his band mates as skilled, independent musicians, telling the stories of how he conceived the music on the album and brought it together, and the pure rawness and excitement that came out of the music that made such a fantastic show. I got a chance to meet Kamasi and shake his hand and tell him how impressive the show was. It was definitely an unforgettable performance and one I will definitely see again should they every come back to this area.

If I had any kind of critique at all on this album it would be that the lyrics are a little cheesy sometimes. But they are sung beautifully, so who really cares. I think this is the best album of the year, at least so far, and I know I’m over hyping it like crazy. But I’m just proud that it’s 2015 and a legitimate jazz EPIC has come out and its fantastic and it’s just proof that music totally doesn’t suck at all nowadays. Anyone who may see this should absolutely check out this record if you have any interest at all. And if you’re not interested, just take a minute to look up the history of this guys career. Not only did he perform on Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus’s newest records, but he toured with Snoop Dogg for years. It’s on Spotify for free check it out.

-Chris P