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Kamasi Washington and Next Step- First Avenue 8/11/19

August 18, 2019

I am a big fan of Kamasi Washington. I got turned on to Kamasi when a music buddy suggested I listen to this new jazz cat on the scene in the spring of 2015. I listened to The Epic and I was instantly hooked.

What grabbed me was the Coltrane style shredding in an acid jazz setting with elaborate arrangements (small combo, big band, orchestra, choir, vocalists, etc.). Kamasi is standing on the shoulders of his jazz predecessors, but he interjects his own personality into the jazz tradition. Ultimately, there’s a playfulness and a joy to Kamasi’s art.

Besides his music, which I love, what I appreciate about Kamasi is that he is bringing young people to jazz. Not watered down lite-jazz or some kind of fusion with contemporary pop music, but with straight-ahead jazz. He successfully communicates to a millennial audience raised on alternative rock and hip hop in the ancient language of jazz. Not with standards, but with stunning originals; it is absolutely fascinating. I have a theory on why millennials ears are open to Kamasi’s jazz: hip hop. Hip hop stars like Kendrick Lamar (whose albums Kamasi has played on) and A Tribe Called Quest have slipped in enough jazz in their beats to create fertile ears. Hip hop is hope for jazz.

Some jazz snobs are dismissive of Kamasi for reasons I don’t understand. What I do understand is that Kamasi is playing challenging music in the jazz tradition and is capable of filling a rock club on a Sunday night with millennials.

This is the fourth time I have seen Kamasi live. Each time he has been more commanding on stage. He and his band (Next Step) play in an aggressive and loud style, appropriate for the rock venues they are playing in. Kamasi is currently touring with a nine-piece band (two saxes, trombone, two drummers, two keyboard players, vocalist, and bass).

The First Ave crowd was very into the show. I asked a few neighbors around me if this was their first Kamasi show and the answer was yes. I was witnessing a bunch of indie rockers and hip hop heads having their first jazz woody. I couldn’t help but recall seeing Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Pat Metheny, and Woody Shaw when I was about twenty and falling in love with jazz music. It was a beautiful thing to witness.

Kamasi does not patronize his audience, but he is not aloof either – he is a rock star. He knows how to shred, but he also knows how to entertain.

Kamasi is currently on tour supporting Herbie Hancock. Kamasi is the kind of passionate musician that detours several hundred miles out of his way on his night off with Herbie to headline a rock club. Given the Hancock tour, Kamasi was in a position to fortify his band with the best of the West Coast Get Down collective. A special treat was keyboardist BIGYUKI who I was unfamiliar with. He brought some new colors to the Kamasi’s Next Step Band.

Kamasi played a nice cross-section of tunes from his three albums. Highlights were “Change of the Guard,” “Truth” and “Fists of Fury.” Each band member got a nice solo throughout the night. A special treat was Miles Mosley taking the lead on one of his songs: “Abraham.”

Kamasi has got to put out a live album. What he does live is rawer than what he does in the studio – they truly “tear the roof off the sucker.” If you get a chance to see Kamasi live don’t miss it.


From → Music Reviews

  1. I’d like to catch him.

  2. Thanks for this. One of those artists I’m always about to investigate.

    Now I definitely will.

    Regards Thom

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