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Kamasi Washington Live At First Avenue – Minneapolis 11/9/17

November 11, 2017

Two years ago, I saw Kamasi Washington at the Icehouse in Minneapolis. It was an intimate space for an epic artist like Kamasi. First Avenue is a better fit. Kamasi has grown in confidence and skill as a performer and as an entertainer since I saw him last. He has charming stage banter and visibly enjoys his sidemen.

As much as I enjoy the super sized arrangements of Kamasi’s recordings, it is an equal thrill to hear him in a more stripped down and rawer context. Of course, a small combo for Kamasi is two drummers, bass, keyboards, trombone, a female vocalist and his dad on flute and soprano sax.

First Avenue is a rock club and the crowd reacted to Kamasi and band like they were a rock act. Although Kamasi’s brand of jazz is very accessible, he doesn’t play down to the crowd – this is straight ahead jazz. Imagine if Coltrane had been on the CTI record label. Adapting to his surroundings, Kamasi played loud and aggressive.

Kamasi has a great band and he gave each of the soloists plenty of room. Trombonist Ryan Porter is especially gifted, he has great tone and adventurous solos.

Kamasi’s genius for me is as a composer, he writes great jazz melodies. He also is a great arranger, both on recordings, where he has more resources, and live. A great example was the opening number, “Change of the Guard.” On the record (The Epic) it is an elaborate arrangement and live he just focused on the great melody.

Other highlights for me were “Henrietta Our Hero” and “Truth.” “Henrietta” featured vocalist Patrice Quinn. My only disappointment in the show was that Quinn’s role was diminished from the Icehouse show. She is a great jazz vocalist with a vintage style. Her backup singing got lost in the maelstrom of this show.  “Truth” allowed the featured soloists to weave independent melodies into an inspired ensemble performance.  A musical lecture on the beauty of diversity.

Washington is a great player, band leader, composer and arranger. He is crossing over to the rock and hip hop audience without diluting the jazz. He is an exciting and entertaining performer. He is a worthy face of jazz’s future.


From → Music Reviews

  1. You catch some good shows.

    • We are lucky in Minneapolis- we get a lot of shows. If someone does Chicago they typically hit Minneapolis.

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