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Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference

October 7, 2017

When I first listened to Kamasi’s The Epic in the spring of 2015 I was blown away. It was my album of the year in 2015. I have not tired of it since that first listen – I listen to all or part of it at least once a month for the last two years. Given its girth (nearly three hours) and depth (elaborate arrangements, large ensemble, vocals, choir, etc.), I have needed a couple of years to fully absorb it, yet I have been looking forward to new material.

Kamasi gave us a taste of something new this summer with the thirteen minute single “Truth.” “Truth” has similar ambitions as The Epic. I was feeling like we were going to get another six course meal, but Harmony of Difference is a mere 31 minute EP. I have to laugh at Kamasi’s sense of size: three hour albums, thirteen minute singles and thirty one minute EPs (that would have been a normal jazz LP in the 60s).

Despite its brevity, Harmony of Difference is another great album and no less grand then The Epic. Per the liner notes:

An original six part suite that explores the philosophical possibilities of the musical technique known as “counterpoint,” which Washington defines as “the art of balancing similarity and differences to create harmony between melodies.”

Side one consists of five short songs and side two fuses those five songs from side one into one suite. The side one songs are each unique with their feel, but once fused on side two they become one. It is a wonderful act of alchemy.

I am a jazz fan who cut my teeth on 70s fusion and soul jazz. That music could be crap or brilliant, with the line between those two extremes a razor’s edge. Kamasi effortlessly walks that line. Imagine the perfect cocktail of Grover Washington Jr., Coltrane and Gil Evans. This is accessible jazz with integrity. This is the kind of music that turned me into a jazz fan in the first place and reinvigorates my enthusiasm for jazz.

This EP is composed, arranged, conducted and produced by Washington. Washington is the featured soloist. Washington has great tone and his engaging phrases that can both caress and bite. He may not end up on the jazz saxophonist’s Mount Rushmore, but he has something special: the ability to musically communicate to old jazz fans like me and to millennial hip hop fans. That is pretty magical.

After listening to this EP for several days, I prefer it to The Epic in that is a more manageable listen. Bravo, Kamasi! I look forward to seeing you live again in Minneapolis in November.

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From → Music Reviews

One Comment
  1. I only had time to listen to a little bit but what I heard I liked. I’ll find a half-hour somewhere and check out the rest. I have never heard of this guy. As to The Epic, boy three hours is a commitment.

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