I’d never heard of jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington – \’Re Run Home\’
before reading about how his recently launched new album, The Epic,
was creating waves not only among jazz fans but also transmitting ripples that are touching music lovers who’re otherwise not serious listeners of jazz.
Epic Proportions: The Epic is truly an epic album. I’d have never known about Kamasi Washington’s genius if I hadn’t decided to spring for it.
Then, I read (yes, read!) that I had actually heard him. He was the one who played tenor sax on Kendrick Lamar’s widely lauded new hip-hop album, Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
(the song on which Washington is credited is titled u
); and on the equally acclaimed album, You’re Dead!
, which is experimental multi-genre producer Flying Lotus’s new album, Washington not only played sax and keyboards but is also credited as a composer.Despite having heard both those albums several times, I’d have never known about Washington’s genius. That is, if I hadn’t decided to spring for The Epic
Also watch: Kamasi Washington Group – Hub-Tones
is truly an epic album and I’m not being facetious when I say so. It’s a three-hour, three-CD album, with track lengths routinely reaching the 10-minute mark and a few that are nearly 15 minutes long.It’s an album that can be expected to be scarily overwhelming as well: on it, besides the 34-year-old Los Angeles jazzman’s 10-piece band (which includes two bassists, two drummers, an organ player and a pianist), there’s a full orchestra and a choir.
But it never is. It is expansive. If you expected Washington’s collaborations on Lamar’s album or on Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me
’s totally unpredictable yet highly enjoyable electronica-inflected category-defying album to give you an indication of what to expect on The Epic
you would be wide of the mark.The Epic
is not about fusion – there’s no electronica; no hip-hop; or anything else. The Epic
is a jazz album. A big jazz album.
And it takes you on a historical journey through African-American jazz through the ages but with what seems like extra long stopovers in the heady era of bebop, a style that has its roots in the 1940s and is marked by solo improvisations by talented instrumentalists.Some of the most noted bebop jazzmen include saxophonist John Coltrane, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell. Some would say that was the best era of American jazz. Washington’s music is frequently reminiscent of bebop but also of the cool era Miles Davis where even elaborate compositions and stunning improvisational virtuosity seem effortlessly laidback.
Star dust: Washington’s music is frequently reminiscent of bebop – a style popularised by jazzmen such as (clockwise from below, right) pianist Bud Powell, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist John Coltrane.
It can be easy to focus on The Epic
’s nostalgic throwback to earlier jazz styles and call Washington’s music derivative but that would be wrong.It is obvious Washington has been steeped in the influence of America’s great jazz players but his compositions (all the tracks are original) interpret those influences in a version that is singularly his: the full orchestra; the choral backing; and the big jazz band sound.
All of that blends together for the listener a wide and vibrant canvas of jazz that can be appreciated by hardcore jazz fans as well as newbies with less cultivated ears.
Few jazz albums have the ability to straddle both those ends of the listenership spectrum. The Epic certainly does.
The thrill is gone: BB King’s influence on musicians across genres and his gig-packed career cannot be overstated. (Photos: Getty Images)
DOWN MEMORY LANE:
You’ll likely be reading this more than a week after blues legend BB King died at 89 and would have already read the several tributes paid to him. King’s huge influence on legions of musicians across genres and his phenomenal, gig-packed career cannot be overstated.Few musicians played as many concerts as King did. In 1956, he is supposed to have played at 342 shows and even when he was well into his 70s, he routinely appeared in 200 concerts a year.
Also watch: B.B. King – Live in Dallas (1983) – Full Concert
For blues fans, King’s vast discography – his last live album was released in 2012 and the last studio recording came out in 2008 – is a treasure trove of music. Most of last week, I tried to lay my hands on some of his really early work – albums such as Singin’ the Blues
(1956), Blues in My Heart
(1970) and a single on a 78 rpm vinyl of the song, PLEASE LOVE ME by B B King 1953
from 1953. That last one is on YouTube and you can hear it online with the scratches and cracks and static all intact.
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In a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the American actor whose role as the young policeman, John Blake, in The Dark Knight Rises I liked, the musical guests were Mumford & Sons, an English indie folk band. They played two songs live—I Will Wait and Below My Feet—both from their recently released new album, Babel. Both the performances were nice. And I thought to myself that Mumford & Sons were probably better heard live than on albums. I’ve had a copy of Sigh No More, their debut album, for a couple of years but I must admit that although I liked listening to it the first couple of times, it soon got a bit clichéd, repetitive and whiney. Read more