Jazz isn't a genre of music that's had a ton of relevance in the musical landscape over the last decade or two. There's been notable acts and the genre's influence has been felt in other genres, in certain aspects of electronic music, hip-hop and even metal.
However, in the 21st century it's been difficult to pinpoint a figure who's emerged that's been on the same level of prowess as one of the greats such as Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck. Or at least it was until last year, when Kamasi Washington emerged with his three-hour long, aptly titled 'The Epic', a tour-de-force in jazz which saw Washington himself as band leader on saxophone display rich, vibrant, gripping skill which doesn't let up across the three hours and his band followed suit. This record has had a crossover appeal, getting more attention in the general music landscape as opposed to just being a success in the jazz scene. Tonight in Manchester Kamasi Washington continues to build jazz's relevance in the 21st century.
Beforehand though we have Sarathy Korwar leading his own trio, where they display sh*t-hot musicianship that prepares you for the main event with very flashy keyboard playing, sporadic finger work on an acoustic guitar which sounds very eastern and Korwar himself providing a tight, solid backbone on the drums.
Kamasi Washington and his fellow musicians hit the stage and proceed to give a two hour display for some of the most impressive skills and highest level of passion for music you've ever seen. Washington's ensemble consists of himself on saxophone, his father Rickey Washington on flute, two drummers Ronald Bruner Jr and Tony Austin, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, vocalist Patrice Quinn, trombonist Ryan Porter and upright bass player Miles Mosley, and each member is a master at what they do. Your eyes have this option paralysis of who to keep an eye on, as they're all simultaneously breath-taking. When there's a section which features fiery sax from Kamasi himself, at least one of the drummers will be hitting out equally agile beats. When Quinn is delivering soulful, melodious lines, Mosley will be producing tender, tuneful basslines, sometimes even playing them with a bow. Every member has a moment or two to shine on their own, but there's a unity which makes them untouchable whilst onstage.
When they play the touching 'Henrietta Our Hero', a song about Kamasi's grandmother, who he dedicates the song to tonight, it's a much calmer affair than much of the rest of the performance, with much less overtly flashy playing, but some stunning use of flute. However, when you play close attention you can tell it's still constant, impressive skill at play in how there's such a high amount of precision and complexity in how unpredictable even the peaceful parts are and the timing needs to be perfect.
As well as this stunning talent from these group of people, you also feel a strong sense of family between them. On top of the fact that Kamasi's father is amongst the group, Kamasi explains how they've known each other since they were kids and shares amusing stories about members when they were younger.
Kamasi also states that whilst they were making 'The Epic', they were all also working on their own individual albums and then allows Mosley play a song off of his upcoming one. This is where Mosley truly dazzles, playing in a way that only a jazz expert could make heads or tails of how he's pulling it off, the way he's rapidly just lightly touching the strings, using both hands as picking hands and right next to each other on the bass, creating these lush, melodic textures. Honestly, he makes Flea look like Sid Vicious.
Jazz is renowned for the level of technical ability that the genre so often displays compared to other styles of music. There's strong mix in age amongst the crowd at this show and the older people present who may have been going to jazz shows for years, may have seen better playing than this, but there's also a lot of young people, where this could well be their first jazz concert due to Washington's crossover appeal. If that's the case, then surely this is the most impressive musicianship these people have seen yet in their gig-going experience.
The two drummers have a 'conversation through drumming' or in other words, a drum off which would be a highlight at any other show, but is just business as usual at this extraordinary one. They're both astonishing, especially Bruner Jr who is pulling off the speediest, most all-over-the-place, yet cohesive fills and rolls, your jaw just keeps dropping. It's like the last scene of Whiplash, except he doesn't seem to break a sweat and it's no surprise when Kamasi explains that he's been playing since he was an infant.
When closing the set with the last few songs we're nigh on two hours in, yet you feel like they could play for a few hours more and people would never get sick of it, the whole experience is so mesmerizing. The only bad thing about it, is that it does have to come to an end. When the show does come to a close, it's about as conclusive as one could hope to this journey to be, with each member getting their moment in the spotlight one last time, to truly thrill and hit home even further the talent of these players.
If Kamasi Washington and his band keep this up, they might just end up bringing jazz to the masses, but that doesn't seem to be their endgame. They just seem all about having a good time being wholly in love with what they do, pouring every last drop of passion into their instruments and that can make for an experience that's life affirming to everyone present. Chuck Palahniuk wrote in 'Fight Club' that 'A minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.' Tonight, all the effort these musicians have put into their craft made for a performance where every moment was perfect.
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