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Kamasi Washington – The Epic

May 14, 2015


An album title has never been more appropriate.  This is a three-hour tour de force – a 10-piece jazz band augmented by a 32-piece orchestra, 20-member choir and a featured vocalist (Patrice Quinn).  I come to this as a jazz fan and I am guessing most ears will be coming from a hip hop aesthetic.  This is not hip hop based jazz like Robert Glassper, but rather pure jazz.  I will be curious to how the hip hop audience takes to it.   I won’t bore you with the back story as it is better told elsewhere.

One of my favorite books is Michael Chabon‘s Telegraph Avenue. A key “character” in the novel is a jazz record store (Brokeland Records).  It is not hard to imagine The Epic playing 24 by 7 in the store. The album juxtapositions John Coltrane and soul jazz – imagine Trane on CTI Records.

Kamasi (and other soloist) shred on top of elaborate arrangements that would not be out-of-place on a David Axelrod LP or a Mingus LP.  The arrangements are elaborate, yet the soloist sound totally spontaneous and improvisational. Kamasi’s wailing sax solos evokes both Coltrane and an expert rapper’s flow – sometimes at the same time.

There is a lot to absorb here and it is going to take me weeks to fully appreciate this album, but I feel compelled to post after just a listen and half because I am sure this is a masterpiece and I feel the need to shout from the mountain.  This is both devotional to the jazz cannon and a completely modern reinvention.  This album has the potential, like Mile’s Bitches Brew, to turn on a new crowd to the beauty of the jazz form.  Finally I love the ambition of this album: an amazing combo (but even that is oversized), a jazz orchestra, a choir and classic vocalist.   It dashes from one place to another (Stevie Wonder, Trane’s Classic Quartet, Axelrod’s jazz symphonies, etc.), yet never sounding disjointed – it is a cohesive whole.  I am gobsmacked.  More later if I can climb my way out of this pleasure-dome.



From → Music Reviews

  1. Sounds very intriguing – and like a lot of work to get into it. But I will give it a few listens as it is on spotify.
    Thanks for sharing*

  2. I will definitely be getting this in some kind of musical format. You have more than peaked the interest.

  3. What a great cover. Old school.

    • I keep coming back to this album. One of my top 5 from the last 10 years.

      • Yes. I will be getting it for sure. You have given me so many new people to check out. Some reminders on older ones also. Next week I will pop in for a look at a couple of your new posts. The Tedeschi Trucks looks like a must and the film you did a take on has caught my interest. Keep it up. You have me hooked.

      • Thanks for the support. You can’t go wrong with Tedeschi Trucks. Given what I think you like I am pretty sure this will be in your sweet spot.

      • I seen them on PBS a while ago. Must be the same lineup. It was awesome. They did ‘The Letter’. That album sounds like it’s full of great music. Support is a pleasure. Like I said I was looking for someone i could trust that has their finger on the pulse of the kind of music i dig. Saves me a lot of work.

  4. Axl I made this my third choice on my catchgroove list. Just reread your take and I would agree with you on your thoughts. Kamasi and his fellow musicians are all over the jazz map on this. Coltrane, Mingus like you mentioned. I got a lot of the 60’s Impulse sound plus that early mid 60’s Bluenote, Jackie McLean and the like. Plus his own stamp. The choir/strings work. It all works for me and is an intense listen. I will be putting more time into it and adding it to the regular repertoire. I love his playing, reminds me off all the greats who went before him. Is there still a market for this? If so the torch is in good hands. I’ve added 3 excellent new albums to the listening pile. Thanks. (I might shake things up on the Babyhead thing. Run it by you later)

    • I give Kamasi a serious listen about once a month. Got to see him live in a small club in Minneapolis too. Intrigued by the shake up.

      • Just listened to it. I really dig his music. This has a filmic feel. A little Morricone but it reminds me of something else. It will come to me. I could and will listen to this a lot. Along with the similarities you pointed out, one sax player that came to mind was Archie Shepp. Look forward to checking out more of the people I noted from your station. Good stuff.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy | Axl's Catch Groove
  2. Best of 2015 in Music | Axl's Catch Groove
  3. Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference | Axl's Catch Groove
  4. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth | Axl's Catch Groove
  5. Kamasi Washington and Next Step- First Avenue 8/11/19 | Axl's Catch Groove

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