Archives for posts with tag: Spiritual Jazz

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

Album Review: Church, Mark de Clive-Lowe (Ropeadope LLC, 2014)

stjohncoltrane

Iconography of the African Orthodox Church, St. John Coltrane

The Church of St. John Coltrane is a congregation in San Francisco that believes God spoke through John Coltrane’s music. Canonized in the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane is pictured in their iconography with his tenor saxophone, flames emerging from its bell.

“Spiritual Jazz” is used to describe Coltrane’s recordings from the mid-1960’s. It’s a moniker that also suits Coltrane collaborators like Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas. Characterized by long-play recordings, entrancing rhythms, melodies and the occasional cacophonic interlude, spiritual jazz was often considered avant-garde.

My uninvited and admittedly cursory sermon on the history of spiritual jazz is meant to illuminate Mark de Clive-Lowe’s recent release, Church. It’s a remarkable ode to spiritual jazz, surprisingly authentic for a producer who is better known for electronic dance music.

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With Church, de Clive Lowe has pegged the ‘vibe’ of spiritual jazz while bringing his own modernity to it. The record is quite a departure from his prior work, although he did release a jazz oriented album, Take the Space Trane (Tru Thoughts, 2013) with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra early last year.

The track, “Ghaziya,” is the best showcase of the sound de Clive Lowe cultivates across the whole record. Its use of scales more commonly associated with North African and West Asian music draw comparisons to Afrobeat revivalists The Budos Band and Soul Jazz Orchestra. What sets Church apart is the injection of electronic elements and a production style that isn’t afraid to mash up traditional jazz instruments with synthesized melodies and beats.

Vocal collaborator, Nia Andrews, appears on several tracks, the most striking of which is “Hollow.”  Keeping with the spiritual jazz vibe, Andrews’ performance and de Clive Lowe’s arrangements on this track evoke the work of Fertile Ground

While novel and tasteful, honouring spiritual jazz is not what makes Church a strong album. Rather, it’s de Clive Lowe’s musical choices, sharp production, and authentic jazz performances. That it has a cohesive theme, musically and lyrically centred on spiritual reflection, makes this album even stronger and more lasting.

Related Listening:

  • Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” – Pharaoh Sanders, Jewels of Thought (UMG Recordings, 1969)
  • Black Is” – Fertile Ground,Black Is (Blackout Studios, 2004)
  • Budos Rising” – The Budos Band, The Budos Band II (Daptone Records, 2007)