KAMASI WASHINGTON, Heaven and Earth (Young Turks, 2018)
PERSONNEL: Kamasi Washington (tenor saxophone), Cameron Graves (piano), Brandon Coleman (keyboards), Ryan Porter (trombone), Miles Mosley (bass), Tony Austin (drums), plus a host of guests depending on the tune.
- Fists of Fury
- Can You Hear Him
- The Invincible Youth
- One of One
- The Space Travelers Lullaby
- Vi Lua Vi Sol
- Street Fighter Mas
- Song for the Fallen
- The Psalmist
- Show Us the Way
- Will You Sing
Kamasi Washington is nothing if not ambitious. The man and his tenor saxophone exploded onto the mainstream jazz scene in 2015 with The Epic, a sprawling 3-CD set covering a wide variety of jazz-based compositions. Now he’s doing it again with Heaven and Earth, though he has limited himself to a pair of CDs for this release.
The album is divided into sides Washington labels as the world as he sees it inwardly and is a part of him (“Heaven”), and the same world he sees outwardly, making himself a part of that world (“Earth”). It is a fascinating concept that has produced some quite interesting music.
The album is being heralded by many as the best jazz release of 2018. To be certain, it is the most accessible. Washington has crafted a sound that touches on post-bop fundamentalism before diving headlong into more contemporary sounds bordering on R&B and somewhat smoother (but not completely “smooth”) jazz. Newcomers to the genre would have little trouble taking in these sounds, which don’t stray so far as to buck anyone off their musical horse.
Washington’s horn remains the centerpiece throughout, keeping the sound grounded. His tone reminds one of John Coltrane, a breathy, soulful sound that at times seems like it might veer out of control at times, but inevitably finds its way back to the core of the piece. The choir and orchestra can at times seem like just a little much, reminding one of a melodramatic movie score. But the sound is respectable, and to be taken seriously.
Heaven and Earth is the product of a musician being left to his own devices and allowed to chase his Muse, wherever she might lead him. The listener is free to come along for the ride, but would not be blamed if — like on The Epic — he chooses to take in this music in smaller portions, allowing some quality sounds to reverberate within before moving on. This is an album worthy of exploration.