Although he was labeled somewhat of a savior of jazz when the sprawling 3-hour THE EPIC landed in 2015, the impact Kamasi Washington and his circle of musicians have had is their relatability. Where it’s no surprise that staple gigs with legendary big guns like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter are part of Kamasi’s CV – it’s the multitude of appearances, collaborations and back-ups these musicians can variously namedrop that shifts the overall reference point from 50 years ago to something contemporary.
It also helps that this list includes Flying Lotus, Run The Jewels, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Suicidal Tendencies… and goes on…
HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE is the result of a project for the Whitney Museum Of American Art 2017 Biennial. These 6 pieces of music were composed as an artistic collaboration with filmmaker AG Rojas and painter Amani Washington (Kamasi’s sister – the abstract paintings are included in the booklet). In terms of approach, it’s a world away from when they spent a month at King Size Sound Tracks and came out with 6 albums, so taking this release as any sort of follow-up to THE EPIC is a little pointless.
But this is by no means a negative thing – Such was the gargantuan nature of THE EPIC that, although technically this is an EP at just under 32 minutes, in reality you’re getting an album that’s scraping average length by many jazz standards!
Thematically, HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE is split into 5 sketches – DESIRE, HUMILITY, KNOWLEDGE, PERSPECTIVE, INTEGRITY and elements of these sketches are revisited in the 13-minute finale, TRUTH. In keeping with previous work, it fuses discourse on politics, civil rights and spirituality in one big melting pot and a style of jazz with its roots in the late 60s and early 70s.
DESIRE is a slow soulful opener. This perks up when you think you’re getting an extended Brandon Coleman workout on the keyboards, and then it returns to the central melody and ends. There’s a sprawling soul ballad somewhere in there, but a slow burner like this needs more elbow room. In complete contrast, HUMILITY is big and brassy – an upbeat and to-the-point slice of glory. Not a second of its 2:46 running time is wasted. KNOWLEDGE strikes a pensive tone, and the dual drum kits of Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin shine. Live, they’re loud bastards, but here they sit into the recording and avoid overpowering it. PERSPECTIVE swirls with piano and tenor sax before kicking into a Latino groove and is pretty much a vehicle for a Kamasi solo. INTEGRITY sounds familiar, like a condensed version of something on THE EPIC bit I cant think of what… perhaps it’s simply the sound of this band.
TRUTH reevaluates elements of the previous 5 movements in one long piece, and is much more comfortable for it than having to condense separate ideas into bite size pieces. This track makes better use of some of the previously sketched ideas and finds a flow that makes this group shine. It’s a bigger arrangement than anything else here, with the returning choral and orchestral textures of THE EPIC, along with a welcome appearance by Mr. Thundercat on electric bass.
While anything bearing the name Kamasi Washington is more than welcome, what is problematic with the shorter stuff is that we’ve previously been so spoilt by a behemoth of willful indulgence that we want big, extended, proggy, funky swathes of jazz stretched over 5 albums as a follow up….
…Basically, Kamasi Washington makes us greedy!