Kamasi Washington


“Jazz is like a telescope, and a lot of other music is like a microscope,” speaks Los Angeles-born saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who since the age of three has been an obsessive practicing musician, and with 34-years of experience now behind him, can site Kendrick Lamar and Ryan Adams as collaborators while still being able to call the four walls that flanked his adolescence home. Where some may argue that the propellant energy that once charged the incendiary beginnings of jazz faded away with the towering talent of the time, and see Washington as stepping-up as the primary architect of the genre’s revival, I don’t believe him to be attempting to reanimate a near-dead corpse, but offering a new joyous language in its place. Speaking on his elevating vision, the West Coast Get Down alumni dares waste his time with words: “I’m coming into a place where I’m saying what I want with my instrument.”

Washington notes, as he and his seven-man band, built of wind-surgeons and light-speed percussive brutes, flood the stage, “I know it doesn’t look like it, but I like kung fu”, before understated, outward-facing jazz phrasing introduces ‘Fists of Fury’, an interpolation of Bruce Lee’s 1972 movie of the same name, and rapidly evolves into a generous volcanic spill. However, where the evening’s introduction shatters earthly crisis – empowering the audience of Manchester’s Albert Hall to exact some-kind-of insurrection rather than wait for justice to be handed to them, the latter half of the evening explores post-political possibility – venturing into the ‘Heaven’ that makes up one-half of Washington’s upcoming release. Instruments are attacked with an effortless ferocity throughout ‘The Space Travellers Lullaby’ – bending musical confines and warping points-of-reference with an explorative optimism that leads the omnipresence of societal collapse to completely evaporate in the wake of the Dashiki-wearing virtuoso’s embrace of the unknown.

Ecstasy and shameless, sincere joy suffocates the on-going conversation that is taking place between all musicians – higher than the sun in the throes of beyondness, but prior to diving head-first into the ecstatic swimming-pool water of ‘Truth’, and following a world-swallowing 110-minute performance of defiant bliss – biblical in its breadth and ambition, the other-reaching “Man of Peace” puts succinctly what the evening has been channelling with an open hand: “Diversity is not to be tolerated, but celebrated.”

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James Musker

Music Journalism student and lover of all things sensory and cosmic.