Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Album Review)

In its physical sense, Kamasi Washington’s The Epic (Brainfeeder), by far exceeds the definition of its title. Having played with big league players in jazz, R&B and hip hop, and also growing up in Los Angeles’ historical Leimert Park jazz community, he is one amongst some of the most forward playing artists of this generation. His dectet,The Next Step, also known as The West Coast Get Down – two basses (electric and upright) keyboard, piano, three horns, two drummers and vocalist plus a twenty person choir and thirty two piece orchestra makes this journey unlike any I’ve heard in a long while, or maybe even in this lifetime. A resounding two hours and fifty four minutes of true expression in one of its highest forms is only an attempt to describe the composition, structure and tones of this magnificent seventeen track offering.

The opening number, Change of the Guard is a primer for what is yet to come, as it displays a full on introduction to the colossal lineup of players, orchestra and choir. The myriad of changes and codas take the listener on the type of ride where you just enjoy the view, with all of its bends and unexpected twists of the road. As bandleader, composer and tenor sax giant, Washington allows his arrangements to breathe as an entity, a symbiotic organism with a multitude of functions that contribute seamlessly to the whole.

The warm and breezy movement of the bass and percussion of Askim makes the perfect bed for Washington’s driving sax excursion, while Isabelle moves quietly against a colorful palette of solos brushed with vibrant tones of trombone, saxophone, keyboard and piano. The Rhythm Changes is a straight a-header, seasoned with groove heavy horn and keyboard solos and marks the first appearance of songstress and band member Patrice Quinn, who, by the last section of the track leads the choir in an all affirming and timely chant:

Daylight seems bright because of the night
Change we need, so we can see…
Our love, our beauty, our genius
Our work, our triumph, our glory
Won’t worry what happened before me
I’m here…I’m here…I’m here.

The bebop swing and prolific sax work of Washington on Miss Understanding nods in reverence to the ancestral jazz giants of our past, still with us in spirit. Miles Mosley’s upright bass solo, keys and angelic choral voices all hail and sing praises to our beloved players. Seven Prayers and Henrietta Our Hero both bring their tempos down to a calm, but without lacking in power and intensity. The expression in Ms. Quinn’s voice (in the latter) layered with the choir’s majestic overtones makes this a special track, one that speaks to and for our unsung heroes who fearlessly wield love as their shield and armour. Re Run (Home) is the first preview track released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint and the one that formally introduced me to this release. By the first 43 seconds, after the bass drops, you should already have an idea of how its about to play out. The pulsing four on the floor of the drums and bass should have no problem getting people moving onto dancefloors or at least moving in their seats before they get on the dancefloor.

Amidst the sun, soil and plants abloom, my listening experience of this album couldn’t have been more befitting. The album cover suggests an awareness of the full moon energies present during the time of its release – and a release it is – the magnetic pull of the tides and waters of emotion, ever present throughout the flow of this treasure of an album.

In these times of confusion and discord, The Epic fearlessly commands and bursts of life, love and creative expression, in a season where these inner and outermost urgencies are forever due; to maneuver through disheartedness and create spaces and places to inspirit ourselves and one another. This album is an embodiment of freedom. To free ourselves from any fears that inhibit us from moving forward by pushing beyond so-called limits and boundaries. My wish is that albums and works of art such as this will speak boldly and quietly to us all, when we need it most. This time is now.

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