Kamasi-Washington4. Kamasi Washington
The Epic

Playing jazz is about being in the right place at the right time. So, in a way, it’s not all that unusual for the idiom’s most widely acclaimed album in decades to have come from Kamasi Washington, a guy heretofore best known for his work with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. The former brings the perfect blend of crowd-reading and experimentalism to both his music and his label; the latter has, early in his career and against some odds, achieved the kind of mainstream success that allows him to do whatever the hell he wants with his music, no matter which label releases it. And just as the milieu of You’re Dead! and To Pimp A Butterfly provided the perfect proving ground for a talent like Kamasi Washington’s to emerge from, the critical and commercial successes of those albums no doubt set the stage for the world’s next great jazz album. Make no mistake: The Epic deserves that title.

kamasi1No one could have predicted, however, that the genre’s hottest crossover of the millennium would be one so deeply, inextricably rooted and supremely steeped in jazz history. It’s fitting that The Epic came out around the same time that Ken Burns’ “Jazz” came down from Netflix, because this album fills that void by catching you up to date with all the music’s most vital happenings of the last half-century or so. To be fair, Washington has himself questioned the logic behind jazz traditionalists asking young players to master all of the standards that came before them, rather than striving to create their own. Still, I challenge anyone who knows their jazz to listen to “Change of the Guard” and not hear traces of Mingus’s composition or Sun Ra’s spirituality, to hear “Final Thought” without thinking of a Chick Corea jam or to miss every reference to any of the countless other greats scattered across The Epic’s two hours and 53 minutes (from Gary Bartz to Donald Byrd to just about anyone who ever put out an album on Kudu).

The Epic succeeds not despite these precedents, but because of them—they are indelibly etched into our modern understanding of jazz and it takes a true visionary like Washington to build something beautiful that is whole both with and without them. If The Epic is the story of jazz’s past, present and future, then it’s the final third that shows the most promise, because that’s where Washington really takes off and goes for his. This tale is indeed epic, but consider that it’s just 17 songs of 190 recorded in 30 days. As exciting as The Epic is, the fact that all that other music exists should be even more so. – Samuel Diamond

Pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Turning Point: Albums (and Bands) We’ve Changed Our Minds On

We can all still learn a lot from anyone willing to look deep inside themselves and examin…