Ever since his breakout success with 2015’s The Epic Kamasi Washington has in some regards become the de facto poster boy for modern jazz in the mainstream conscious.
That’s largely because his work with Kendrick Lamar and his Brainfeeder label mates Flying Lotus and Thundercat (all of whom have a significant cross-over appeal of their own) but it helps that his debut three-disc, three-hour “epic” is considered a modern masterpiece and achievement both within the jazz community and its more casual observers.
And it is almost immediately clear why Washington’s long-list of plaudits are queuing up amongst his fans, many of which are quite possibly new to jazz generally, as everyone in the packed and fairly diverse crowd at the QMU will attest, man is legit.
Opening with the two new tracks from his upcoming full-length Heaven and Earth – ‘Fists of Fury’ and ‘The Space Traveller’s Lullaby’ – the gathered audience are immediately floored, enamoured and dancing in one big universal grin.
Washington’s assembled band are all of course at the incredible standard one would expect, but it is quite a remarkable feat to see these incredibly complex arrangements not just performed incredibly but also to achieve their desired effect of getting to move and think simultaneously.
Take the stand-out track from last year’s Harmony of Difference EP, ‘Truth’, which Washington explains before they perform is a song with “five different melodies being played at the same time to symbolise the diversity of a major city like my home of Los Angeles”, which not only receives rapturous applause just as a concept but gives the, perhaps uneducated-in-jazz crowd the necessary context in which to be invigorated by when listening to these inspiring pieces.
By the time of the finale ‘The Rhythm Changes’, which is arguably Washington’s most accessible song anyway, the entire room is moving and seemingly in love with everything at that particular moment.
Whether some others feel a bit slighted at the attention Washington is getting from specifically who he has worked with, there is no doubting his clear technical and songwriting prowess which is just as (if not more) important.
Besides, I’m sure the jazz community is happy one of their own is making waves in the wider music community, with the potential that it will bring more eyes and ears to the often underrated genre anyway.
On the strength of this awe-inspiring set, here’s hoping this will inspire more folk to check out jazz, given the city has a dedicated venue to the genre now.
Words: Adam Turner-Heffer