Jazz is an interesting genre. It’s lack of accessibility means that, although it’s musicians have always been highly regarded, it has never had much of a grasp on the mainstream. Unfortunately this means that even talented artists remain largely unheard by the masses. But once in a while the public will recognise a truly great talent; whether it be in the form of Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Charles Mingus.
And so now in 2015, out of the mystic shadows of the realms of Jazz comes Kamasi Washington. Here is an artist so original, so exciting and so beautifully strange in his approach to music that his talent could scarcely be unrecognized for long. Washington, a tenor saxophonist, has been known as a contributing musician for a number of acts in recent years including Flying Lotus, Herbie Hancock and even Kendrick Lamar. But it was this year’s breakthrough album ‘The Epic’ that has garnered him some well deserved attention.
At its core, this album is Jazz. But is also so much more. His band consists of trumpet, trombone, bass, keyboards, percussion, saxophone, piano, and two – yes- two drummers. Together they journey into uncharted sonic territory, pushing the boundaries of what contemporary music can be. The result? An almost extra-terrestrial sound; impassioned and atmospheric. The haunting backing vocal tracks found on songs like the opening ‘Change Of The Guard’ sound as though they’ve been plucked from the soundtrack of a 70s science-fiction film.
Although the album can be described as a well-balanced whole, the tracks themselves range quite drastically. Sometimes fierce and urgent, like ‘The Magnificent 7’; sometimes slow and soft like the dreamy ‘Seven prayers’. Other tracks aim to incorporate different genres altogether such as ‘Re-Run Home’ which begins with a Funk driven groove. It is here that his use of two drummers really comes alive as they become caught in the throws of frantic games of cat and mouse. You can also find elements of Soul, like in the easy-going ‘Cherokee’ which is one of only a handful that utilizes vocals as a major part of the song.
‘The Epic’ could not be more aptly named. It is a true assault on every one of your unsuspecting senses. Clocking in at a little under three hours, this behemoth is split into three volumes; ‘The Plan’, ‘The Glorious Tale’, and ‘The Historic Reception’. As an artistic project it is close to flawless; at some points smooth and sensual, at others, erratic and abrasive. This album gives the listener everything and is not a venture to be taken lightly. So if it’s an experience you’re after, take three hours from your life, put on a selection of great music and witness a journey like no other.
By Edward Acheson