martes, 12 de enero de 2016

Kamasi Washington - The Epic (2015) 3 CD



It is probably impossible to discuss Kamasi Washington's new record—all three impressive hours of it—without copping to at least some awareness of two extra-musical truths. The first of these holds that, as a member of the studio wrecking crew that brought Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly into being, this saxophonist-composer is unusually well poised to secure the attention of listeners who have previously been uninterested in jazz. (This past spring's celebration of all-things-TPAB was sufficiently strong that Billboard even published a well-reported piece that detailed exactly how Lamar's album came to feature so many jazz figures, including Washington.)

The second truth is that jazz could use a few more people with Washington's cachet in the wider world—touring with Snoop Dogg, or putting out albums on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint. Admitting this is not tantamount to saying that jazz is in some unhealthy creative state (it isn't), but rather that the music currently faces an uphill struggle in the marketplace (as it often has).

You can see hints of these outside considerations in some of the pre-release writing around The Epic—virtually all of which cites Washington's hip-hop associations as a reason to pay attention to his big debut as a jazz bandleader. (Washington cut one prior album as part of a collective, in 2004, but this set is his real coming-out party.) One can imagine other elite contemporary jazz artists grinding teeth while checking Twitter, muttering to themselves: if anyone paid attention to me, they'd notice the post-turntablism beats in my music.


Given all this, it's something of a gobsmacking paradox to discover what a hip-hop-free zone The Epic is, and how enamored of jazz's past it turns out to be. This triple-album set is an extravagant love letter to (among other things): soul jazz, John Coltrane (various periods), and 1970s fusion leaders like Miles Davis and Weather Report. The Epic's Disc 1 opener, "Change of the Guard", might as well be titled "We Love All Kinds of 'Trane". Its ringing opening piano chords sound almost entirely lifted from the playbook of McCoy Tyner, the pianist in Coltrane's so-called "Classic Quartet." (That's the group responsible for A Love Supreme.) The opening theme in the saxes is something that could only have been written after "Impressions". And the harmonious writing for Washington's string section recalls posthumous Coltrane releases like Infinity—tracks from which featured orchestral overdubs supervised by Alice Coltrane (who is, as you may have read, Flying Lotus's aunt). Toward the end of the 12-minute tune, Washington's tenor sax solo veers off into flights of screeching intensity that were the hallmark of Coltrane's later groups—specifically the ones that also included Pharoah Sanders. (Who is, by the way, still active—and still great, on the evidence of last year's record with the São Paulo Underground.)

What The Epic does come to sound like, over the course of its significant running time, is a generational intervention—an educational tool that widens the definition of styles that fall under "jazz classicism." With his writing for string sections and chorus, Washington even flirts with that most dreaded of appellations: smooth. But these specific choices also wind up paying dividends: The calmly spiritual voices and Washington's wailing playing during the back half of "Askim" feels novel.



Given all this, it's something of a gobsmacking paradox to discover what a hip-hop-free zone The Epic is, and how enamored of jazz's past it turns out to be. This triple-album set is an extravagant love letter to (among other things): soul jazz, John Coltrane (various periods), and 1970s fusion leaders like Miles Davis and Weather Report. The Epic's Disc 1 opener, "Change of the Guard", might as well be titled "We Love All Kinds of 'Trane". Its ringing opening piano chords sound almost entirely lifted from the playbook of McCoy Tyner, the pianist in Coltrane's so-called "Classic Quartet." (That's the group responsible for A Love Supreme.) The opening theme in the saxes is something that could only have been written after "Impressions". And the harmonious writing for Washington's string section recalls posthumous Coltrane releases like Infinity—tracks from which featured orchestral overdubs supervised by Alice Coltrane (who is, as you may have read, Flying Lotus's aunt). Toward the end of the 12-minute tune, Washington's tenor sax solo veers off into flights of screeching intensity that were the hallmark of Coltrane's later groups—specifically the ones that also included Pharoah Sanders. (Who is, by the way, still active—and still great, on the evidence of last year's record with the São Paulo Underground.)

What The Epic does come to sound like, over the course of its significant running time, is a generational intervention—an educational tool that widens the definition of styles that fall under "jazz classicism." With his writing for string sections and chorus, Washington even flirts with that most dreaded of appellations: smooth. But these specific choices also wind up paying dividends: The calmly spiritual voices and Washington's wailing playing during the back half of "Askim" feels novel.


Disc 1

1. Change of the Guard
2. Askim
3. Isabelle
4. Final Thought
5. The Next Step
6. The Rhythm Changes

Disc 2

1. Miss Understanding
2. Leroy and Lanisha
3. Re Run
4. Seven Prayers
5. Henrietta Our Hero
6. The Magnificent 7

Disc 3

1. Re Run Home
2. Cherokee
3. Clair de Lune
4. Malcolm's Theme
5. The Message


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