Archives for posts with tag: Pharoah Sanders

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

Music Review: Movement, Gerardo Frisina (Schema Records, 2014)

Latin influenced jazz had its beginnings in the 1940’s and was later popularized by Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria with his recording of “Afro Blue” in 1959. Soon after, Latin Jazz blossomed, attracting a caravan of masters recording hundreds of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian-influenced standards.

One of the best collections of these is the Blue Bossa collection from Blue Note Records (1992) featuring greats like Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, and Kenny Dorham. Incidentally, Mobley’s “Ricado Bossa Nova” from that collection is one of my all-time favourite Blue Note recordings. frisina movement

It is squarely in this tradition that Italian jazz composer and producer Gerardo Frisina has built his repertoire. His latest release, Movement, remains grounded in Latin Jazz while incorporating modern elements of jazz dance and soul jazz music. He achieves this with well-chosen vocal, electric piano, and organ accompaniment. Frisina also blends Afrobeat influences in tracks like “Eastern Vibrations – Shout It” with its fat brass section. geradofrisinajointhedance

I was so taken with the authenticity and musicianship on Movement, that I explored Frisina’s back catalog and was impressed even more deeply with his 2010 release, Join the Dance (Schema Records). More classic and straight-ahead than Movement’s modernized sound, Join the Dance evokes the masters that embraced this music. “Another Waltz,” features the vibes of Pasquale Bardaro and a steady groove that could have come off of a circa 1970 Bobby Hutcherson album. “Mille E Una Notte” is a easy-going musical sojourn through the Arabian peninsula, reminiscent of Pharaoh Sanders.

With both of these albums and his earlier work, Frisina’s body of work is a faithful extension to a tradition dating back more than five decades. He brings a freshness to the genre, not through gimmickry but rather through great composition and musicianship. In this sense, Frisina is not a mere preservationist. He is a progressive, who conserves the essence of what makes this music great, while allowing it to change and resonate with today’s tastes.