Californian sax player Kamasi Washington is one of the hottest musicians around right now, helping to bring jazz to audiences who might not have traditionally been interested in this style of music previously.
Coming on the back of his critically acclaimed triple album from 2015, The Epic, Washington’s latest release is the eight-track EP Harmony of Difference. Released on the British independent record label Young Turks, Harmony of Difference could be described as the comedown after the massive high of The Epic. He could not have released a much shorter project if he tried at thirty-one minutes following what was a mammoth three-hour-long album. Some people, me included still even struggle to view this as an EP given its length, but hey I guess this is jazz after all.
With the success of The Epic, who many critics deemed to be one of the best albums of 2015, you would think it would be difficult for Washington to release something as complex, beautiful and perhaps as good as that album straight away. However, he has managed with Harmony of Difference to do just that. It might not be as adventurous as The Epic but it sure is just as majestic and is already a candidate for the EP of the year.
Using the same band as he did on The Epic including Miles Mosley on double bass, Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums, and Brandon Coleman on keys, Harmony of Difference is a composition which explores how forces that often seem to be working against each other can come together as one. The concept of the EP is based on a series of paintings by Washington’s sister Amani and saw Washington write five short pieces of music which then come together as one to make up the thirteen-minute suite Truth that ends the EP. Musical motifs, riffs, and melodies are introduced through the first five tracks before reappearing in the final climax, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Musically, Washington also appears to diversify on Harmony of Difference. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of his talented band, he explores everything from big band on Humility, to 70s R&B on Perspective, and calypso jazz on Integrity. Although this is his project and there can be no doubt that Washington is a talented tenor sax soloist in his own right, what makes this EP so good is the combined effort of the other musicians whose contributions are just as vital to the overall sound as Washington’s presence out in front.
With Harmony of Difference, Kamasi Washington has done nothing to harm his reputation as one of the leading lights of modern jazz. He is truly a tour de force and with project’s like this, it is no surprise that artist’s such as Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Run the Jewels have called on him to feature on their projects. Washington will headline WOMAD in March, his second visit to New Zealand. And with a release of this quality still fresh in people’s minds, this gig is already looking like being one of the must-see shows of next year.