David Hepworth in Uncommon People, his entertaining meditation on rock stardom, makes the pin sharp point that the idea of the rock star itself has passed. The demotic nature of 21st century fame, the whip hand of new technology and the sheer ubiquity of celebrity has crowded out the rock star and cut them down. Hepworth makes no parlez with jazz but there are parallels. In the swipe right high streets of 2018, the notion of a famous jazz musician seems about as quaint and likely as being a public intellectual. Stop any noonday crowd and ask anyone to call out the name of jazz star and you will likely hear Miles, Ellla or Coltrane. All on the missing list for a generation.
Well I have a few crumbs of comfort for you. In wake of The Epic’s release two years back, music lovers on the other side of the jazz looking glass have been paying attention. Washington has garnered profiles and portraits in old and new media. Street Fighting Mas off Heaven & Earth has 2m hits on You Tube. Not the high teen millions of Childish Gambino for sure but in jazz terms, Kamasi Washington’s exposure is as rare as snow in June.
Take a listen to Street Fighting Mas here...
Heaven & Earth, I am glad to say, is a refined and expansive continuum of its predecessor. Washington proves himself times over as artful bandleader, arranger and soloist. The album opener, Fist of Fury is a celestial take on the theme from a Bruce Lee film. It’s a huge sound with a high altitude sci fi choir, a molasses sweet groove that bounces with a gospel fervor. All of these elements are however lightly balanced which is the first showcase for Washingston’s band leader chops.
Take a listen to Fist Of Fury here...
Can You Hear Him is a propulsive spacey jam with Washington’s tenor ring mastering the circling sheets of sounds. Room is found for a wild Dexter Wansel style solo from Brandon Coleman. Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-tones gets a lifting make over. The original hard bop dna retained but there a loose limbed pacing helped by Tony Austin’s drumming.
Connections is more tranquil with hints of In a Silent Way, but with warmer blasts of brass. With a high quality threshold its hard to pick a favourite moment but I say
The Space Travellers Lullaby opens up CD2. It’s a tune that nutshell’s the albums influences and ambitions. A deep space choral plunge that coexists as gospel music and a fusion flavored big band showcase. It is soundtrack music that is other worldly but anchored in a soulful righteousness. All the tracks on Heaven & Earth are long with a total running time of 146 minutes. The closest thing to a radio friendly single is Street Fighter Mas; it’s a snazzy CTI type tune that has been beamed up to today with its loop of fiery brass, breathy choir and fluid rhythm.
To like Heaven & Earth you don’t have to wear a jazz fan, you just have to have ears. Complex, ambitious and accessible it is one of the best releases of 2018.