Published on July 13th, 2018 | by Stacey McLaughlin0
Jazzfest Review: Kamasi Washington
In our final review from The Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, Stacey sees the brilliant Kamasi Washington honour both the past and the future of jazz.
Kamasi Washington performed at the Bessborough Gardens on a mere 4 days after the critically acclaimed release of his album ‘Heaven and Earth.’ This tenor sax-player, band leader, and composer has experienced a lot of mainstream success with his own jazz music, and you may have also heard his work with such musicians as Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, and Run the Jewels. A formidable presence himself, he took the stage in a long flowing blue gown with sleeves so big you could fit a puppy in them. He said with a friendly laugh to the crowd, “I guess this is night time?” and that was just the beginning of his rapport for the evening, telling stories and jokes, and just being a genuinely kind – yet somehow still larger than life talent on stage.
The band began with a song that Washington explained was from his favourite video game, Street Fighter. The song was enchanting and featured a trombone played through a vocoder. As the audience would discover, Washington makes excellent use of crescendo and theme to build excitement. In addition to his arranging prowess, each of the bandmates had their own musical tricks up their sleeves. For instance, bassist Miles Mosley used a bow on his upright bass and played notes far down on the neck of the bass which resulted in a very dramatic effect.
For their next song Washington brought out his father, Ricky Washington, who featured on soprano sax for the funky melody ‘The Rhythm Changes.’ This song featured incredible solos by both the senior Washington, and a very exploratory solo on a vintage Moog synthesizer by Brandon Cuomo. The song had a casual free feel, and people smiling and dancing happily. It was by this time that you were becoming fully aware of just how unbelievable Washington’s lung capacity is. It’s one thing to hear him play saxophone on a recording, but it’s quite another to see him in person – the man has quite a set of pipes. He articulated each note, those sharp staccatos to the exciting trills, with clarity and deliberately like he was telling an important story.
For the song, ‘Truth,’ from his 2017 album, ‘Harmony of Difference,’ Washington explained that the song is about themes of inclusion and diversity, and that it includes five melodies played at the same time (notably his father Ricky switched to flute, and synth/piano player Brandon Cuomo switched to vocals). Before launching into the beautifully complex piece, Washington gave the audience this line to ponder, “We don’t have to be the same to be together.”
This song segued beautifully into ‘Will you Sing’ from his new album. Vocalist Patrice Quinn involved the audience almost as if to invoke a rallying cry, begging various questions throughout the course of the song with the same cadence, “If you could, would you sing?” This song also featured two very powerful solos by Ryan Porter on trombone, and Brandon Cuomo, this time on piano.
From there they went into another new and very exciting song called ‘Fists of Fury,’ with finger work as intricate as butterflies dancing on the keys yet much more forceful. This song had a very groovy 70s techno feel, while still maintaining all of the jazzy polish and staccato that the other songs had. Washington took time to acknowledge everyone in the band during this last song, including his two drummers Robert Miller and Tony Austin. He said it was their first time here in Saskatoon, but it wouldn’t be the last. So if you missed this show, make sure you don’t miss them next time they come through. Their music just stays with you, it’s jazzy and orchestral while at the same time maintaining an air of modernity – it’s an experience not to be missed.
Photo by Adrien Begrand