Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington is currently charging towards the final stretch of his Heaven and Earth North American tour in support of his 2018 studio album by the same name. The west coast bandleader began the lengthy headlining trek back in late July and has since been wowing audiences with his wildly exciting live band show full of musicians who are just as smooth in handling their respective instruments as the popular saxophonist himself.
Washington returned to New York City on Sunday night for a headlining performance at Brooklyn Steel. Sunday was Kamasi’s second time visiting the New York market on this album cycle since he played the historic Forest Hills Stadium as support for alt-J back in mid-June, just days before the June 22 release of Heaven and Earth. With a full tour now well behind them, the band was firing on all cylinders on Sunday, providing fans with a finely-tuned and chaotic way to jazz party to out the weekend. There may only be a few shows left on Washington’s fall tour, but here are five reasons why you should definitely make an attempt to see him the next time he comes to town, which will probably be closer than you think.
1. Phenomenal Live Band
Jazz, especially improvisational-based jazz, is all about teamwork. It doesn’t matter how well you can play your instrument. If you’re not listening carefully to what your bandmates are doing, you’ll get lost quicker than a 16th note in a song with a 5/4 tempo - musicians know what I’m talking about. Kamasi has recruited quite a fantastic live band to join him on this tour, with additional horns, evocative singer Patrice Quinn and a pair of drummers who Washington has known since childhood. Fans may be thinking they're paying for a Kamasi experience when they purchase their tickets to see him, but like any true performer, he's setting folks up so that they're really getting the full band experience.
If you’re familiar with Kamasi Washington’s catalog, then surely you know his 13-minute 30-second climactic masterpiece known as "Truth." Released in 2017, the lengthy instrumental (with help of some non-lyrical vocals) provides listeners with five different instruments (including said vocals) all playing five different melodies. While some may consider the piece as well-structured chaos, Washington has a method to his melodic madness. He mentioned during the show on Sunday night that all five melodies represent diversity, which can work well together if you listen hard enough. He made a point to connect how he wrote the piece in relation to the sociological issues taking over politics at the moment, where diversity should be celebrated, not feared.
3. Rhythm Devils
Remember those drummers mentioned earlier? They deserve their own section because the “Drummer Dialogue” solo portion of the performance acted as both the energizer and set divider when it came in after “Truth” halfway through the set to bring the audience back down to earth. The two percussionists Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner, Jr. take audiences for their own beat-driven ride through the universe, which was a pretty wild and exciting ride with thunderous cadences and wonderfully collaborative concepts. Think of it the two as a modern spin on the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
4. Into Psychedelia?
Psychedelia has made quite the comeback into popular music. The legalization of marijuana in many parts of the country is allowing the countercultural theme to bleed back into mainstream genres ranging from hip-hop to Americana and roots rock. Jazz, of course, was psychedelic rock before psychedelic rock even existed. The genre doesn’t limit itself for the standard 4/4 rhythm you hear in basically every rock/pop song, ever, but rather opens up to various time signatures that most musical minds have no ability to grab a hold of. It’s quite fun if you try and listen very closely.
5. Fantastic Balance of Structured Space Jazz
Speaking of wild time signatures, it’s also well known that jazz can get pretty weird and pretty out there when the group improvisation really takes off. It can be tough for your average music fan to hold onto if they don’t have sufficient experience within the realm of jazz. Don’t worry, Kamasi and company seem to find a perfect balance to really taking the music out into the endless expanse of musical space, without going too crazy for your average music fans to still understand and appreciate. Perhaps it's that balance that has allowed his west coast jazz styles to crossover into the mainstream.
Washington’s tour will continue this week with notable upcoming shows at Richmond, Virginia’s The National on Wednesday, and Nashville’s Marathon Music Works on Thursday. Tickets to select remaining can be purchased by clicking here.