Kamasi Washington: Fearless Movement (digital outlets)

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Interstellar Peace (The Last Stance)
Kamasi Washington: Fearless Movement (digital outlets)

Because the commanding Kamasi Washington has appeared at Elsewhere previously – in an interview and album reviews – we will just note that, as with Wynton Marsalis, Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman and many others, calling this saxophonist/composer a jazz musician, it's limiting.

Growing up in Los Angeles he gravitated to jazz in his early teens but, as a kid of his generation, was also into hip-hop. At university he studied ethnomusicology.

He toured with Snoop Dogg and worked with musicians as diverse as jazz legend Herbie Hancock and Kendrick Lamar.

His 2015 breakthrough album – clocking in at almost three hours – was The Epic featuring a 32-piece orchestra, 20-piece choir, various solo vocalists and his jazz ensemble.

It tapped into jazz of all persuasions, notably the ambitious reach of Sun Ra, John Coltrane and post-bop players on the cusp of free jazz. And hip-hop.

As he told me, “In the beginning [jazz] was influenced by blues and gospel . . . then it was influenced by rock'n'roll, boogaloo, funk in the Seventies . . . to get the full picture of jazz you have to study all these styles”.

Since The Epic, 43-year old Washington has continued as a boundary rider working with artists across the spectrum, writing soundtracks and picking up awards.

And now comes Fearless Movement – a fairly modest 86 minutes – and, as before, it's a dense meltdown of myriad influences from spirituals on the swinging opener Lesanu, to guest rappers Taj and Raj Austin on the hyperactively funky Asha The First driven by bassist Thundercat andsoul on Computer Love with singer Patrice Quinn.

George Clinton and rapper D Smoke weigh in on the funkadelic Get Lit and André 3000 adds elegant flute to the quietly mesmerising stand-out Dream State.

Like Duke Ellington, Washington writes so soloists and ensemble players can shine, although when he unleashes his post-bop sax on Prologue (the final piece) he drives ahead and upward like Archie Shepp.

Fearless Movement is another weighty, demanding epic from the unconstrained Washington and his skilful merger of seemingly disparate images from that “full picture of jazz”.


You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here

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