Kamasi Washington @ Howard Theater

Okay, I realize that this review is nearly a week late, but hear me out. Sometimes life throws the unexpected your way, and you get a little behind. My apologies. That being said, I’d like to categorize this review as ‘better late than never.’ Honestly, most other performances I would have just said, “I’ll write about it next time.” But not this one. Not Kamasi Washington. I can’t not write about this.

Jazz tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, recognized most notably from his work with Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, played at the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. last week, but to say he “played” is to undervalue everything that happened on stage. Washington has described his music as healing, and no other term seems quite as fitting.

Washington began with an opening solo on “Change of the Guard,” the first track off his debut album, “the Epic.” Washington initiated the performance understated, and bleak; then grew the piece into an outright assault, overflowing with pan-African jazz. Having brought the energy in the room up, Washington and his band flooded the theatre with an intense vibration for the next nearly two hours.

Washington was accompanied by seventeen year old pianist Jamael Dean who nearly brought me to tears more than once during the performance; Miles Mosley on the standup bass; two drummers, Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr., who played breakneck swing in such perfect sync it’s impossible to fathom, let alone explain; and trombonist Ryan Porter. A seminal moment of the show was when Washington broke from playing his own music to accompany Porter on a piece from his own upcoming album. Vocalist Patrice Quinn also accompanied for several numbers.

Halfway through the show Washington brought out his father, Rickey, an accomplished flutist and saxophone player. He played flute to the tune of a song Washington wrote about his grandmother, sung sultry and painful by the remarkable Quinn.

I find it hard sometimes to adequately articulate how I feel about jazz. I typically write about Americana and indie rock for the blog. But truth be told, nothing moves me quite like jazz. It took a long time for me to feel like I really got it, and to this day there’s jazz that I don’t understand. Although, sometimes I think that’s the point. With that, I think it is often difficult for jazz to make it out of its own clique and into the mainstream. But, Kamasi Washington has far reaching appeal. What he’s doing on sax is unconventional. He’s creating a fusion of different types of music and applying them to the world of hip hop, to electronic, as well as to jazz. He calls back to the jazz greats of the 40s, and the African streets of the 70s, all the while progressively addressing the sounds of today. I think this is what we look for when we talk about real creativity. Washington isn’t just making jazz. He’s making something unprecedented. It’s not jazz. It’s not hip hop. It’s not African. It’s Kamasi Washington, and it’s the truth, y’all. Get on board. Because jazz like that will make you believe in something.

 

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Twitter: @KamasiW

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Morgan

Joe Strummer made me do it.

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