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It makes sense that at 34 Kamasi Washington has many ideas backed up after years of blowing into his saxophone at gigs, sessions and recordings, beyond the spotlight. He must have somehow attached an extra hard drive to his brain, because he’s delivered a monstrous amount of music in The Epic.
Jazz guru Kamasi Washington explodes with energy and bravado on his debut solo album The Epic, 173 minutes of pure jazz finesse to intoxicate the senses.
The Epic is what it says on the tin. Washington’s first solo album is a staggering 173 minutes long (or 2 hours and 53 minutes in the old money), with the first three tracks (of seventeen) adding up to 37 minutes alone. When most albums are between 30 minutes and 45 minutes long, Washington has gone all out like a dog on a hot day and spun out a record that at least in terms of length is an adequate backing track to any of Martin Scorsese’s cinematic work.
Washington, along with Thundercat and Flying Lotus (the former plays bass on this album), almost form an LA jazz brat pack of sorts. The three of them regularly step out of their genres: the three of them all contributed in varying degrees to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly; and for instance Thundercat has worked with Kimbra, and Flying Lotus with Thom Yorke.
However, The Epic is far more thoroughly jazz and traditional than the work of Washington’s compatriots.
There are no synthesisers or drum machines to be found on this album, just an ol’ time brass section, together with drums, keyboards and occasional vocals, led and dominated by Washington’s tenor saxophone.
Around places, Washington’s style has been described as ‘spiritual jazz’ which is a pretty handy description. It’s basically just a really chilled out version of jazz, trumpets, trombones, saxophones ‘n shit making beats that weave their way from speakers like smoke drifting away from a stick of incense.
It’s not chill in a contemporary way, which is more or less electronic music laying low and passively whistling like a musical wind. Sometimes Washington or one of his backing band (or even all of his backing band) go mental and perform a raging solo, and other times a frenetic tempo pops up out of nowhere, shedding a light on why so many metal bands take cues from jazz.
These moments are and aren’t intense at the same time, providing excitement whilst keeping the chill levels to an all-time cool. Maybe that’s just jazz, or the magic of the saxophone, or the magic of jazz saxophone, for ya, but it sheds a light on the through-and-through chill approach of Washington’s songwriting.
In a fair few photos, and on the cover of this album, Washington is seen lifting his saxophone with one hand, with his rather large afro bonce fanning out from his face like rays of the sun. He stands like a god, beckoning the listener to take his hand and follow him on a temporal journey that’s a montage of not much at all.
Whilst perhaps not hitting the heights of Walking on the Moon by The Police (scientifically regarded as the most chill song of all the time), The Epic, taken in moderation (or just left on) is a dependable source of transcendental, almost autoscopic, relaxation.
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