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Why We Need Kamasi Washington Right Now

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Why We Need Kamasi Washington Right Now

Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Shannon Durazo, Web Staffer

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On Saturday, November 10, Kamasi Washington and his accompanying band performed a jaw-dropping set to a sold-out crowd of over 1,000 individuals at the Lincoln Theatre on U-Street.  I was lucky enough to be a member of that audience. The show was part of a world tour celebrating the release of his sophomore album “Heaven and Earth”, and included new music, old music, covers, and a healthy dose of solos and improvisation during and in between numbers. Washington is one of the titans of jazz right now, a master of genre fusion and integration, repurposing jazz in a way that hasn’t been seen in a while. When he wasn’t masterfully playing the saxophone, the musical titan was delivering one-liners that rang out like prophecies. In particular, one that stuck with me was his statement about diversity.

“Diversity of humanity, must not be tolerated, but celebrated,” said Washington, in a booming baritone voice that seemed to stretch to all corners of the 1,225-seat theatre. Kamasi exercises this mantra not just in his words, but in his performance, as well. The group of musicians that accompany Washington, from the two drummers, trombonist, keyboardist, and revolutionary bassist Miles Mosely and vocalist Patrice Queen, are completely individual in their style and sound. And every single one of them was given the opportunity to showcase their talents for a lengthy solo or two. During that time Washington would stand to the side, or take a seat at a bench, and watch in awe as if he too was a member of the audience seeing the musicians perform for the first time. It makes sense, as every solo was improvised on the spot, but his genuine wonderment of their abilities conveyed true appreciation of their craft.

Not just in the solos, but in Washington’s songs themselves is a celebration of diversity evident. In the show-stopping 2017 number “Truth”, five to six different melodies are played at the same time, never intended to complement one another yet still interweaving in complete harmony. Similarly, in “Street Fighter Mas” and “Fists of Fury”, two tracks off the new record, the vocal refrains are isolated from the other complex, swirling arrangement of instruments, and often times, during the live performance the songs were re-arranged so many times within the musician’s own solos that it would take a sharp re-instatement of the central melody or refrain for the audience to remember that, after 13 minutes of transformation, they were in fact playing the same song.

Any well-trained musician is able to exercises their athleticism on an instrument, playing a series of individual notes at a very rapid pace and tempo, something seen in the opener of the show, Richmond, VA group Butcher Brown. The members of Butcher Brown were obviously very talented, each possessing a high level of stamina and athleticism over their instruments, but the members of Kamasi Washington’s group, in contrast, not just showcased technical stamina but a complete mastering of the melodies and rhythms at the foundations of every song played. With every solo they were not just playing loud and fast, but seemingly taking the song by their own creative reigns and making it their own. It was truly like nothing I had ever heard, and one of the many reasons we need artists like Kamasi Washington in this day and age.

Photo Courtesy of Study Breaks

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Why We Need Kamasi Washington Right Now