I had never heard of Kamasi Washington before I took a look at this album, but due to his appearance on To Pimp a Butterfly, the appearances by bass legend Thundercat, and the fact that this is in fact a three hour jazz fusion record, I was pretty drawn to it. Kamasi Washington handled saxophone here, and as a saxophone player myself (I've played since I was eight), I can really appreciate his skill. His playing can be extremely melodic, but in his faster runs, he pulls everything off so cleanly. When he's trying to screech and be noisey, he reaches harmonics I can only dream of (the embouchure and breath control required to reach some of the pitches heard on this album is staggering).
So, Kamasi Washington is a master saxophonist, but the members of his band prove that they're not about to be one upped. Every member has their own improvisational spotlight, and they use those opportunities to the utmost degree. The rhythm section on this album is what I found the best. The drumming and interplay it gets with the bass is superb, and the fact that all the players so easily follow these complex rhythm and time changes is impressive. It's clear that so much effort went into the arrangement of these songs, and even though I feel like a lot of the album is improvisational, there's a lot of evidence of just painstaking amounts of care and rehearsal. It's a loose jammy album, but with a rigid backbone, which gives it a duality that displays the skill of its musicians two fold.
This album definitely lives up to its name. It is easily one of the most epic things in jazz I have ever heard. This is up there with some of Miles Davis' best fusion pieces and Kamasi Washington is next in line for John Coltrane status. This album is practically perfect, and I find it hard to talk about, because it is just so amazing, and it needs to be heard. If you're at all a fan of jazz or jazz fusion, missing this album would be a mistake. This will definitely be a contender for my album of the year.
Out of a total of five stars, I give this:
Check back in later for my views on the new Jamie xx and the new Sun Kil Moon record, Universal Themes. I might also get around to looking at Surf as well.
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