Kamasi Washington released his debut ‘The Epic’ in 2015 to widespread acclaim. After working with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, Kamasi earned an even bigger name for himself after the release of The Epic, a triple album spanning 170 minutes. The album set the bar for modern jazz and has pushed the genre’s boundaries with its dominantly thick texture and ambitious solos while avoiding cliches mainstream jazz had previously felt. With releases since, an EP last year and a full album scheduled for summer this year, he is retaining his prolific status and his performance at a sold-out Roundhouse is an example of how he is maintaining this status.
Kamasi’s set contained a mix of songs from ‘The Epic’, his EP from last year, ‘Harmony of Difference’, two new songs from the upcoming album and a version of the just-released single from trombonist Ryan Porter’s new album. With the addition of the new material, the set proved more variated that the last time I saw him in 2015 and helped spread the limelight to the rest of his band. The band were on top form and performed some exceptional solos. They played with great fluidity and energy on stage retaining the emotion and power of the songs that can be heard from the records. Kamasi himself impressed me with his incredible performance and ability on the sax, reminiscent of saxophonist John Coltrane, but I was taken back even more with the performance from keyboardist Brandon Coleman and both drummers, Tony Austin and Roland Bruner. Jr who collectively stole the show. Coleman had an amazing touch on the keys and his use of dissonance was joyous. Both drummers had a drum duel halfway through the set providing amazing control and speed around the kit which received some of the biggest cheers that night from the audience, an unusual response to the stigmatised drum solo. The addition of a second drummer added a lot to the show and kept the audience busy with deciding who to watch as the band played.
I’ve never been disappointed in gigs at the Roundhouse, and once again the venue’s great acoustics helped Kamasi’s band sound amazing. The balance was a bit off with the drums and bass being slightly overbearing from time to time, but this didn’t hinder on the performance or the overall sound thanks to the disciplined band and their control of dynamics.
With his new album for June, Kamasi Washington is a figure to keep an eye on. With jazz’s recent resurgence it’ll be interesting to see where Kamasi goes next with his endless ambition and how, as one of the figureheads of this resurgence, his impact will shape the genre. With jazz being more excepted in popular music, through the likes of Kendrick Lamar and even Lady Gaga who duetted with Tony Bennett, jazz’s demographic has shifted with a wider audience of younger ages too. His Roundhouse show was sold out and the majority of the audience must have been 20-30 years old.
The future of jazz is one that interests me and I am only impressed with the new bands that are leading this new age. This resurgence isn’t a zeitgeist to the golden age of jazz, it brings new life and sound into the genre, bringing with it a new audience. Within the last year, there have been some great releases under the jazz umbrella with, BADBADNOTGOOD’s ‘IV’, Christian Scott’s ‘ Centennial Trilogy’ and most recently Son of Kemet’s ‘Your Queen is a Reptile’. 2018 should bring even more great records and Kamasi’s next album should be one of them.