Banging, booming, swinging, unconstrained, groundbreaking, smooth, inventive, dexterity, creativity, rhythmic fractals, inhalation, exhalation, sweat, intent, defiantly modern music with runaway-train momentum: This is the presaging of the entrant of a new musical vigor; we are talking about Kamasi Washington, the South Central– and Inglewood-raised saxophonist, composer, production editor and band leader, who with his unparalleled cosmic spiritual jazz, might have made the best modern jazz record of the year. His new solo album “ The Epic ”(2015) fearlessly expands jazz’s boundaries, debuting #1 on the iTunes Jazz charts.
“We’re trying to make music with spirit behind it, with sincerity, freedom and no restrictions.” (Kamasi Washington)
The 34-year old, Kamasi Washington carries a collaborator trajectory - extending over a 20 year time span - including such names as: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Horace Tapscott, Gerald Wilson, Lauryn Hill, Nas, Snoop Dogg, George Duke, Chaka Khan, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Francisco Aguabella, the Pan Afrikaan Peoples Orchestra and Raphael Saadiq.
He has attended the prestigious Hamilton High School Music Academy, receiving a full scholarship to study ethnomusicology at UCLA. While attending, he recorded an album with The Young Jazz Giants and went on his first national tour with Hip-Hop legend Snoop Dogg. He then joined the orchestra of legendary bandleader Gerald Wilson, and later went on his first international tour with R&B legend Raphael Saadiq. He recently played saxophone and conducted the string section on Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly.
The American saxophonist-composer spells spiritual, maximalist jazz, with the extraordinary charisma to capture the attention and interest of listeners who have previously been uninterested in jazz as well as change his crowd’s mood and energy with his unconfined all-round jazz.
In “The Epic” Washington metamorphoses to a visionary bandleader leading a 32-piece orchestra and a 20-person choir during a time span of 172 chimerical minutes: A three-volume of rhythmical voyage that sustains the spirit of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Ethiopian jazz, while at the same time being its own form of radicalism; highly modern without being futuristic, creative and improvised defined by a meticulous arrangement.
The unforeseen component that defines Kamasi’s & co music widens the definition of styles that fall under jazz classicism.
In “ The Epic ” Kamasi Washington with his band (two drummers, two bass players, both piano and keyboards, three horns and two lead vocals) come with an epic ambition: the mission to remake the word "jazz" in the image of their own generation, through a wide musical color palette.
“…Honestly, the term “jazz” has no importance to me. The terminologies we use for music in general have no real importance to me. Music is a part of life, it’s alive, it exists without titles. So, you can call my music what you want to call it.
As far as jazz– jazz is so wide. It’s over a century old, you know what I mean? To me, it’s even more vast than what people say it is. What people say it is really, really vast, but what it actually is to me is super vast, because in my opinion, like, James Brown is jazz, in my opinion… that term “jazz”, when I think about it, if Duke Ellington and John Coltrane are jazz, then you have to say James Brown is jazz, and if James Brown is jazz then you have to say Kendrick Lamar is jazz and you have to say that Snoop Dogg is jazz because that means that Parliament is jazz.
To me what that means is that that term “jazz” is so ambiguous, that you use it for what you want to use it for and you don’t use it for what you don’t want to use it for. So, I have no connection to the term, it’s just a word. The music is alive; it’s not bound by a word. My music is my music, it comes from my heart, it comes from my experiences. A lot of my experiences have come from what is called jazz, a lot of my upbringing came up in what is called jazz, I’ve studied a lot of the music that’s called jazz, but it didn’t have to be called jazz. It could’ve been called something else. There’s music that I look at as being very similar to jazz and very much having the same elements that I definitely have embedded in my music, that aren’t called jazz. So, I’m not tied to the term at all, it’s just a word…” (Kamasi Washington)
All Images © Kamasi Washington
Words/Content Editor Annie Markitanis