To say Kamasi Washington is infusing new spirit, cosmic energy and ambition into jazz would be a vast understatement. The 34-year-old tenor saxophonist has released arguably the most elaborate album of 2015, The Epic (Brainfeeder Records), which debuted at number one on the iTunes jazz chart. Clocking in at 172-minutes and spanning three CDs, the album feature’s Washington’s ten-piece band, The Next Step, with vocalists Dwight Trible and Patrice Quinn, along with a choir and string orchestra.
At times evocative of the spiritual jazz championed by artists like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas some 50 years ago, The Epic also incorporates elements of funk and soul that may bring 1970s era Stevie Wonder to mind.
The amalgamation of musical styles comes naturally for Washington. He grew up in Inglewood, California surrounded by jazz – both his parents are musicians. While still studying music at UCLA, Washington went on his first national tour playing keyboards for hip hop legend Snoop Dogg. Later that same year, Washington joined the orchestra of one of his biggest heroes, jazz composer and bandleader Gerald Wilson, and later went on his first international tour with R&B legend Raphael Saadiq.
You may already be familiar with Washington’s recorded work. He had a big hand in crafting the sound of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly album, playing saxophone and arranging the string section. Washington has also recorded and toured extensively with McCoy Tyner, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan.
Kamasi Washington’s concert at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Friday, September 18th promises to be one of the year’s best.