KAMASI WASHINGTON: THE EPIC
Kamasi Washington is at the vanguard of the new Los Angeles jazz scene. With sheer presence that commands an audience and the ingenuity to make things happen, this tenor saxophone player has been creating a storm in Los Angeles that will soon build to global proportions. His debut is boldly titled The Epic, and it lives up to its name. The grandiose and remarkably composed nature of the music would make this seminal work an epic all its own, and although some might call it over-indulgent—it clocks in just under three hours, another reason to call it an epic—it’s full of gem after gem proving not only his skills at composition but improvisation, too.
Like literary epics of the past, it’s broken into three parts: the departure, the initiation and the return, or as Washington puts it, “The Plan,” “The Glorious Tale,” and “The Historic Repetition.” Each plays off a section of a story Washington created in his mind as he was composing. The work here clearly has strong focus and drive. The first track, “Change of the Guard,” which is arguably the thesis statement, opens with simple yet effective piano scales, a rolling drum beat that builds slowly, and horns that suddenly burst out as a choir begins to chant, and you can immediately tell you are in for something special. Like many of the tracks on the album, this one crosses the ten-minute mark, due in part to the soaring horn improvisations that sweep every single song. While this clearly connects to giants of jazz, the work is innovative on a level all its own. Subsequent tracks play with more of a soulful influence or a space-age experimentalism, as well as displaying many be-bop influenced moments. (There are also a few tracks with a vocalist, which those shine in a whole different way.)
Finally, any jazz artist worth his chops could not make a new album without making reference to those who came before him, and in that regard Washington has it covered. The final section, appropriately titled “The Historic Repetition,” takes time to look back at the music in history that has brought us here. An updated rendition of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” with beautiful vocals is here, near an especially moving version of Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” that’s just heart-wrenching to listen to. Ultimately, this album is a masterful creation by arguably the best modern jazz artist in Los Angeles today.
KAMASI WASHINGTON PERFORMS ON TUE., JULY 14, AT HOLLYWOOD AND HIGHLAND, TKTK, HOLLYWOOD. 7 PM / FREE BUT $10 DONATION REQUESTED / ALL AGES. MORE INFO HERE! KAMASI WASHINGTON’S THE EPIC IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM BRAINFEEDER.