Kamasi Washington – The Prince Bandroom, Melbourne (22/03/2016)

Despite the success of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and his high profile collaborations, it was still surprising to be greeted by a long entry line and a packed-to-the gills Prince Bandroom.

Old jazz heads commingled with younger fans, the mood; anticipatory. At 9:36 Washington and his group emerged and got down to work, teasing their toes into the set with a mid-tempo number featuring a wonderfully mellow trombone solo from Ryan Porter.

Although the album, as per its title, featured a large core ensemble with many instruments being doubled by two players at once, the live version was still suitably grand. Both Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin helmed drum kits, while Brandon Coleman moved between electric piano, synth and keytar.

A large, shambling figure replete in his signature African clothing, Washington held down the centre of the stage, gripping his tenor like a love force barely contained.

Despite Washington’s position as bandleader and songwriter, the show felt like a band performance, even an all-star band performance, since each member of the group brought their own distinct personalities and playing style to the mix. Washington explained that at the same time as recording The Epic they also recorded solo albums for each of the band members, making them something of a jazz Wu-Tang Clan.

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The spotlight was then shared equally amongst the players as they each delivered a song of their own. Upright bassist Miles Moseley was ridiculously funky with a song called Abraham, during which he picked, slapped and bowed his bass, often utilising a wah-wah effect.

Coleman similarly brought the funk when given his turn, singing through filtered effects on Spaceship as the horns stabbed and the bass walked at a fast pace. The song culminated in a wild keytar solo soaked in sustain and drive, recalling Hendrix, his face contorted with feeling.

Washington’s father, Ricky, was brought out as a special guest on flute for Henrietta Our Hero, Kamasi’s tribute to his mother, and was also a showcase for the vocals of Patrice Quinn.

The Rhythm Changes was an incredible journey that shifted through several distinct passages beginning with a bright, upbeat melody and slowly building, dropping and building into wild bebop. About midway through the song Washington began to really let rip, delivering furious bursts of music, his brow a crease of concentration.

After an hour and a half the group quit the stage, leaving none in doubt as to why many see Kamasi Washington as being at the forefront of the jazz movement in the 21st century. More than simply technically proficient, he is an innovator that plays with deep feeling, taking in bop, funk, blues and making it all one language, acknowledging the past yet looking to the future.

Written for Beat Magazine.

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