Archives for posts with tag: Kamasi Washington

2017 Year in Review

I’m declaring 2017 the year of the West Coast Get Down. The West Coast Get Down is a collective of jazz musicians who feature prominently in my favourite music of the past year. Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Trevor Lawrence Jr., to name a few, delivered great jazz albums this year, each distinct in style but all revealing a deep musicality among all the players. To wit, Martin and Lawrence are currently touring as Herbie Hancock’s band, along with bassist James Genus. And my musical highlight of the year was seeing Kamasi Washington live in Toronto.

Honourable mention goes to a strong Canadian presence in some of the best R&B and electronically influenced soul from the past year. Musicians in Drake’s orbit like Majid Jordan and dvsn released some of my favourite songs of the year. Mary J. Blige’s collaboration with Montreal producer Kaytranada and Toronto based Badbadnotgood was another favourite.

 

Top of the album list for me is A Million Things by Rohey. Their debut delivers an amazing range of jazz, soul, and R&B but keeps it together in a well put-together album.

 

Albums

  1. RoheyA Million Things (Rohey)
  2. Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  3. Terrace Martin presents The PollyseedsSounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
  4. Omar, Love in Beats (Do Right!)
  5. Thievery Corporation, The Temple of I & I (ESL)
  6. Trevor Lawrence Jr.Relationships (Ropeadope)
  7. Goldie, The Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  8. Moonchild, Voyager (Tru Thoughts)
  9. Farnell NewtonBack to Earth (Posi-Tone)

Song of the year for me goes to “Truth” by Kamasi Washington with a close runner up being it’s namesake on Goldie’s album, performed by Jose James. That track, although first penned by Goldie for David Bowie, is reborn with James on vocal – his best performance in years, in my opinion.

Songs

  1. Truth, Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  2. Truth, Goldie feat. Jose JamesThe Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  3. Heavy, RAC feat. Karl KlingEgo (Counter)
  4. Welcome Speech, CrackazatRainbow Fantasia (Local Talk)
  5. Telling the Truth, Mary J. Blige feat. Kaytranada and BadbadnotgoodStrength of a Woman (Capitol)
  6. My Imagination, Majid Jordan feat. dvsnThe Space Between (Ovo Sound)
  7. Can’t Wait, dvsnMorning After (Ovo Sound)
  8. Minute, No Way Back feat. Sophia Black (Enhanced Music)
  9. Come and be a Winner, Sharon Jones & The Dap-KingsSoul of a Woman (Daptone)
  10. iRise, Chantae Cann feat. Snarky PuppySol Empowered (Ropeadope)
  11. Get it Together, Drake feat. Black Coffee and Jorja Smith, More Life (Young Money)
  12. On My Mind (Acoustic) – single, Jorja Smith feat. Preditah (FAMM Limited)
  13. Way Back, TLC feat. Snoop Dogg, TLC (852 Musiq)
  14. Better Late Than Never, Waajeed, Shango EP (Dirt Tech Reck)
  15. Show You the Way, ThundercatDrunk (Brainfeeder)

New to Me

In my annual quest to discover older music, I found many gems but the most lasting from this year’s search is multi-instrumental reedist, Yusef Lateef. Lateef’s style is distinctly mellow but also inimitably cool. I’ve had his Eastern Sounds (Concord, 1961) and The Blue Yusef Lateef (Atlantic, 1968) albums on high rotation for most of the year.

Yusef Lateef

Most Anticipated in 2018

Three artists teased us with minor releases over the past couple of years and are overdue for full length albums in 2018.

  • Charlotte Day Wilson – An amazingly soulful vocal talent from Toronto released a brilliant debut EP CDW, in 2016. A new single, “Doubt,” was just released and bodes well for what’s to come.
  • Jarrod Lawson – His self-titled debut (2014) was one of the most solid solo male R&B records in a long while, mostly because of how pure it was in songwriting and vocal performance. His sophomore album is eagerly anticipated and I hope the wait will be over in 2018.
  • Ady Suleiman, Memories – Having released multiple singles and EPs over the last couple of years, Suleiman’s debut full-length album is set to drop in March. The first single, “I Remember,” throws the same high wattage of soul and reggae influenced vocals as his body of work to date.

Passings

This year, we lost some of my favourite vocalists and musical stylists in Al Jarreau, Leon Ware, and Frankie Paul. It was also sad to hear of jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb’s passing at the age of 61. Finally, Gord Downie, a national cultural treasure in Canada passed away in October, followed by a flurry of tributes from coast to coast to coast.

Al Jarreau performing live in Los Angeles
1977 © 1978 Bobby Holland

 

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Concert Review: Kamasi Washington, Toronto, November 16 2017, Danforth Music Hall (Late Show)

Kamasi Washington delivered a solid performance last Thursday night in Toronto. “Solid” is apt in so many ways for this show. Washington and his sidemen are musicians’ musicians. The set was a packed 90 minutes. And the vibe was one of clenched-fist solid(arity).

Washington’s live sound is crisp but loose enough for the musicians to have some fun. All the soloists are virtuosos on their instruments. Vocalist Patrice Quinn was flawless, just as she is on Washington’s album, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015). The setlist featured selections from The Epic and the recently released Harmony of Difference (Young Turks, 2017). The great thing about Washington’s live show is that it can draw from a recorded body of work with great depth in each composition.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of the live show was Brandon Coleman’s keyboard sound choices –  quite different from the studio arrangements, adding a dose of funk to the night’s soundscape. In particular, the opening of “Truth” is changed up with a haunting organ sound. The staccato opening of “The Rhythm Changes,” delivered in duet by Washington and long-time collaborator Ryan Porter, was another departure that teased the audience before Quinn revealed the selection with her first verse.

Washington himself is a humble and utterly likeable persona on stage. For someone under 40 who has just recently been vaulted into a global spotlight, Washington presents a maturity both in his rapport with the audience and his mastery of jazz.

In many ways, Washington made Harmony of Difference come to life that night. Introducing “Truth,” he explained, the interplay of 5 melodies within the composition are a metaphor for how humanity’s differences are actually a unifying strength. Through his music, Washington makes his point brilliantly.

Setlist (setlist.fm)

  1. Change of Guard
  2. Leroy and Lanisha
  3. Little Boy Blue (Ryan Porter)
  4. Miss Understanding
  5. Humility
  6. Truth
  7. The Rhythm Changes

The Players: Kamasi Washington, tenor sax; Ryan Porter, trombone; Rickey Washington, soprano sax & flute; Ronald Bruner Jr., drums; Patrice Quinn, vocals; Brandon Coleman keyboards; Joshua Crumbly, bass; unnamed, piano.

 

Album Review: Harmony of Difference, Kamasi Washington (Young Turks, 2017)

Kamasi Washington’s last album, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015), was my standout pick for album of the year. It was, well, epic. Washington’s follow-up reaffirms, he is one of the most important innovators, songwriters, and arrangers in jazz today.

The precursor to this album’s full release was a single called “Truth,” released in April. “Truth” is a 13:30 minute epic in and of itself. It contains strong echoes of its predecessor, most notably the choir arrangements of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.

As a fan of Washington’s, I was eager for the release of “Truth” and kept it on high rotation while awaiting the full album. Now that Harmony of Difference is out, the project’s intent comes into focus. It is a study of sorts. The core melody of “Truth” is played upon in various forms in the other tracks on the album. “Desire,” “Knowledge,” and “Integrity” play with the melody using varied time signatures and arrangements, achieving distinct moods.

If you haven’t yet listened to “Truth,” wait. Listen to the whole album, starting with “Desire” and finishing with “Truth.” You’ll be awestruck as the thoughful and playful variations come together in a grand opus-like climax.

Harmony of Difference is a wonderful follow-up to an astounding debut. It’s exciting to think what Washington will do on his next outing. It will be awesome, but in a manner as yet unimagined to we mere mortals.

Related

Short film made to accompany the release of “Truth” (Young Turks, April 2017)

Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope, 2017)

Terrace Martin’s last album, Velvet Portraits (Ropeadope, 2016) remains one of my favourite albums from the last few years. I wasn’t expecting a follow-up this soon but it has arrived with the Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1. I already can’t wait for Vol. 2. 

Like Portraits, this project offers a wide range of collaborations that are distinct enough to stand up to repeated listening but similar enough to underpin a stylistic theme to the album. In Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1, Martin delivers a classy homage to slow jams and quiet storm while keeping jazz at its core.

“Wake Up,” in particular is a bluesy jazz ballad, apparently performed by Kamasi Washington (channelling Wayne Shorter I might add). According to Rolling Stone (link below), Martin’s sax is only credited on the cover of Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies.” Other tracks with a heavier jazz pedigree are “Believe” and “Mamma D/Liemert Park.” “Believe” sounds like an instrumental reprise of “Think of You” from Portraits. It’s a simple example of how great musicians can innovate variations on basic structures and create something entirely fresh.

Stronger R&B treatment can be found on slow jams like “Don’t Trip” and “You and Me,” the latter featuring the return of Rose Gold, who had delivered a memorable performance in “Think of You.”

Martin also serves up more electronically influenced downtempo numbers. “Your Space” features Wyann Vaughn, daughter of Wanda and Wayne Vaughn, who by association with Maurice White, is R&B royalty. In “Up Up and Away,” we hear a helium voice effect, perhaps an ode to the late Prince who used it, as only he could at the time, on Breakfast Can Wait (NPG Records, 2014).

Martin and his collaborators reveal a rich depth in the space between jazz and R&B. They are not the first to traverse these genres but they are among the best in the world right now.

The Pollyseeds Collective

Terrace Martin (saxophone), Robert Glasper (keyboards), Kamasi Washington (saxophone), Wyann Vaughan (vocals), Rose Gold (vocals), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), Marlon Williams (guitar), Brandon Eugene Owens (bass), Taber Gable (piano), Jonathan Barber (drums), Curlee Martin (drums), Robert Searlight (percussion), Chachi (vocals), Preston Harris (vocals)

There may be other members of the Pollyseeds collective. The above is the most comprehensive list I could compile based on various online sources. There does not appear to be an official listing from the label.

Further Reading

Must Listen

  • This studio performance of the track, “Think of You” from the Velvet Portraits album is a master class in sublime

2015 Year in Review: New and New to Me

For me, the year in music was characterized by breakouts and comebacks. Hard-at-work artists toiling in obscurity finally broke into the main. Legendary artists returned with quality works reminding us of why they are great.

In the breakout category, Kamasi Washington tops the list and gets my vote for album of the year, by far. In addition, three artists who I learned about through Gilles Peterson finally released new material, earning much-deserved notoriety: Lion Babe, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Ady Suleiman.

In the legend category, we had D’Angelo (his album dropped Dec 2014 but lets not split hairs), Jill Scott, Madonna, and Prince.

Favourite Albums

  1. Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder)
  2. Ady Suleiman, This is my EP (Sony)
  3. Lion Babe, Lion Babe EP (Outsiders/Polydor)
  4. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah (RCA/Sony)
  5. The Cookers Quintet, Vol. 2 (Do Right Music)
  6. Prince, HitnRun Phase Two (NPG Records)
  7. Haitus Kayote, Choose Your Weapon (Sony)
  8. The Rebirth, Being Thru the Eyes of a Child (Walk Talkin)
  9. Oddisee, The Good Fight (Mello Music Group)
  10. Jill Scott, Woman (Atlantic/WEA)
  11. Bluey, Life Between the Notes (Shanachie)
  12. Pete Josef, Colours EP (Sonar Kollectiv)
  13. Fourplay, Silver (Concord Music)
  14. Jamie Woon, Making Time (Polydor)
  15. Madonna, Rebel Heart (Live Nation/Interscope)

Favourite Tracks

  1. “Get Down,” Muz’art (Dream Team SA)
  2. “Elevator (Going Up),” Louie Vega feat. Monique Bingham (Vega Records)
  3. “Backyard Party,” R. Kelly, The Buffet (RCA / Sony)
  4. “Cel U Lar Device,” Erykah Badu, But you Caint Use my Phone (Motown / UMG)
  5. “Can’t Forget You,” RAC feat. Chelsea Lankes (Battestation Records)
  6. “Psychic,” XL Middleton, Tap Water (Mo Funk Records/Crown City Ent.)
  7. “Live your Life,” Pete Josef, Colour (Sonar Kollectiv)
  8. “Am I Wrong,” Anderson .Paak feat. ScHoolboy Q (Art Club / Empire)
  9. “Them Changes,” Thundercat, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)

New to Me (Rediscovered)

Every year, I’m keen to discover an artist or musical sub genre that made a mark on music but was unknown to me. This year, I made three musical finds of note.

Lonnie Liston Smith, a great soul, jazz, and funk keyboardist, has been making music for decades and likely inspired many of the musicians I follow today. His body of work is as broad as it is deep. For a George Duke and Roy Ayers fine such as myself, being oblivious to Lonnie Liston Smith is embarrassing. For the similarly wretched and uninitiated, I would recommend Explorations – The Columbia Years (Sony, 2002) as a nice primer.

For years, I’ve known of Vince Guaraldi Trio and their iconic music for the Charlie Brown TV specials. What I hadn’t heard in full until this Christmas was A Charlie Brown Christmas – Expanded Edition (Concord Music Group, 2012). It is a remarkable album, not only for the Holiday season but for any occasion when you need a dose of downtempo cool jazz. The instrumental version of “Christmas Time is Here” is one of the most sublimely perfect recordings of a piano, drum kit, and double bass.

Last but not least, seeing Incognito live and meeting Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick was the musical highlight of my year.

Anticipating in 2016…

For the past five years, I’ve lamented the ever-postponed debut album from KING. Happily, it has a release date early in 2016 and I’ve already pre-ordered a download.

Omar (a.k.a. Omar Lye-Fook) released a single last year, suggesting a full length album is in the works. If it is anywhere near as good as The Man (Shanachie, 2013) – my pick for best album of 2013 – it will be worth the wait.

We may also see a sophomore album from soul/jazz breakthrough artist, Jarrod Lawson, who incidentally has hinted a collaboration with the aforementioned Omar is something he would like to do.

Happy, peaceful, and musical 2016!

Album Review: The Epic, Kamasi Washington (Brainfeeder, May 2015)

kwKamasi Washington is a jazz saxophonist that joins the vanguard of musicians bridging jazz with contemporary music from the many genres in its orbit. Listening to his album, The Epic, I wonder if Washington is this generation’s Herbie Hancock – someone who pushes the boundaries of jazz but does so from a place of legitimacy.

You might say the same of Robert Glasper and jazz innovators before him like Guru and Ronny Jordan. But there is something different about Washington’s brand of innovation. Perhaps it is his pedigree, having played with legends like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Harvey MasonKenny Burrell, and George Duke.

The Epic is an incredibly immersive listening experience. I would liken it to a concept album by a band like Pink Floyd or an opus like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. It’s not the ethereality or electronic treatment that inspires this comparison. Rather, it is the ambition, the grandioseness of this album. It is truly the epic jazz album of the year, if not this decade.

The Epic’s ambience is established through a combination of Washington’s improvisation, a steady and pervasive baseline from Miles Mosley’s acoustic bass, and 20-person choir that evokes a blend of 60’s spiritual jazz and sci-fi cinematic scores. This sound emerges as Washington’s signature while being subdued enough to support, not displace, the profound range and depth of performances and compositions on the album.

With nearly 3 hours of music, the musicians are well showcased. I can’t recall the last time I heard so many generous and wonderful trombone solos, as played by Ryan Porter on tracks like “Leroy and Lanisha” and “Re-Run Home.” Igmar Thomas’ trumpet is another capable foil to Washington’s tenor sax. Stephen Bruner (a.k.a. Thundercat) brings his unique electric bass sound to “Askim,” interplaying fantastically with the majestic choir conducted by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Atwood-Ferguson, incidentally, worked on another recent spiritual jazz revival of sorts, my personal pick for 2014 album of the year, Church, by Mark de Clive Lowe.

Washington himself is a remarkable talent on the saxophone. His range is broad, from hard blowing dissonance reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders to the easy swing of a popular saxophonist like Grover Washington Jr. Kamasi Washington is comfortable and capable at both extremes and this album sees him traverse the expanse.

The Epic’s more conventional arrangements include “Cherokee,” a lovely tune sung by Patrice Quinn in the best tradition of lounge jazz and a version of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” arranged in 3/4 time while maintaining the composition’s lilting beauty.

To me, this album’s appeal is peculiar because I find it simultaneously exhilarating and comforting. I’m excited by its newness – but also comforted that we have a new and credible steward to lead jazz forward. With The Epic, Kamasi Washington sets forth.

 

The Players: Kamasi Washington – Tenor Saxophone; Thundercat – Electric Bass; Miles Mosley – Acoustic Bass; Ronald Bruner Jr. – Drums; Tony Austin – Drums; Leon Mobley – Percussion; Cameron Graves – Piano; Brandon Coleman – Keyboards; Ryan Porter – Trombone; Igmar Thomas – Trumpet; Patrice Quinn – Lead Vocal; Dwight Tribble – Lead Vocal