Kamasi Washington

Heaven and Earth

Young Turks

Jun 22, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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Only three years ago Kamasi Washington released an album that was epic by name and in nature. What made that record extraordinary wasn't just it's 170-minute plus running time, but the fact that a long-form genre record could find such a large and varied audience beyond hardcore jazz-heads in 2015. Hyperbole aside, The Epic genuinely stood as a remarkable feat in honoring jazz's progressive history and embracing the contemporary musical landscape.

Rather than return with a concentrated version of his obvious talents, Washington has made a work of equal magnitude. Split into two parts, the "Earth" section presents his view of the world as he sees it outwardly, and the "Heaven" side as he sees it inwardly. Whereas The Epic felt thematically concentrated, Heaven and Earth is more ambitious. Musically, it has the same lush warmth of its predecessor, but the vision is more ranging and curious this time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, "Earth" contains a generally more chaotic vibe as Washington attempts to reconcile a world in disarray. But despite the promise to reap retribution on lead single (and album opener) "Fists of Fury," his view isn't filled with darkness and despair, as the lighter, more weightlessly playful "Connections" attests.  

There is certainly a distinct sense that the two sides differ in tone and texture, with "Heaven" tapping into his cosmic tendencies. The opulence of the strings and grandness of the choir on "The Space Traveler's Lullaby" soothe and excite in equal measure, and give a sense of a kind of glamorous, vintage futurism.

While it's impossible to capture the multitude of hues and experiments on the record, there are a few tracks that stand proud above the others. Washington's frenzied energy and fearsome drive on "Can You Hear Him" and "One of One" stand out, as does the warped funk of "Street Fighter Mas," and he proves he has a lighter touch on the breakdown of "Song for the Fallen."

He has again proved he's a bandleader with a steady hand and a fiercely curious artistry carrying forward the best of what jazz can be. His modernity is in keeping with great innovators like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Sun Ra, and like them before him the more unconventional facets of his music help to keep the genre alive rather than indulging the dusty nostalgia and convention of traditionalists. It's easy to get overawed by the sheer magnitude of such a work, but it lives up to the audacious premise grandly. (www.kamasiwashington.com)

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