Image via @qbertplaya on Instagram
Kamasi Washington scheduled multiple shows during New York City’s CMJ conference, as most artists do. Night one saw the saxophone player bring extended improv sessions to his headlining slot at the BRIC Jazzfest, and night two was along the same lines. This time at Greenwich Village’s home to the avant garde, Le Poisson Rouge.
Occupying the slot before Kamasi Washington is no easy task, but Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music held their own. Best known for his work in the jazz scene, Guiliana’s Beat Music project boasts an electronica-jazz fusion that dives deep into dub reggae and psychedelia in an entrancing fashion. The most interesting part of the set was when a young vocalist joined them for their last tune in a way that would normally be completely unexpected at a jazz concert. With a frantic and urgent style similar to that of Bad Brain’s HR, the unnamed vocalist absolutely freaked us out in the best possible way. We’ve inquired with Guiliana as to who that vocalist was, so hopefully we’ll have an answer soon.
Kamasi Washington’s band took the stage to much anticipation. Unlike most artists, Kamasi blew up away from New York, and has only brought this band to the city once before this two-night CMJ run (for two nights at the Blue Note). The 700-person room was absolutely buzzing, and Kamasi’s band delivered once again for the occasion.
Kicking things off with the eerie and epic “Re Run,” Kamasi Washington and the next step played an absolutely ferocious set. The blitzing jazz that they play is so energetic and thick, that it often has almost nothing in common with the dainty style of music you may be used to if you haven’t dug too far into the classic genre. Kamasi’s solos are right up there with the best of them, the likes of Santana, Trey Anastasio, Jimmy Herring, etc. He takes you on a journey that – if not followed correctly sounds like panicky saxophone squeels – requires attention to detail. Often times it starts with a minimalist statement before bringing things up to a rapturous boil. It’s the type of captivation that has lead to young, non-jazz listeners to the rooms he’s playing, and they’re leaving with their jaws wide open.
“Miss Understanding” followed “Re Run,” and it was the result of a request from the prior night. Alto saxophonist and acclaimed beat-maker Terrace Martin was once again on deck to bring some unique flavor to the mix, and the fast-paced track stretched into the ~15 minute mark.
Ryan Porter, trombonist in the band, got the spotlight put on him next. Apparently the collective of musicians recorded 190 songs over the course of the past few years. Kamasi took 45, of which 19 made The Epic, and there is allegedly oodles of material waiting to be released at a strategic moment. The song “Oscalypso,” by Ryan Porter, is one of those 181 songs we’ve yet to hear, and the material is just as potent as the nü-jazz Kamasi’s triple LP boasted. This one had a slower, reggae vibe that starkly contrasted the previous two songs. The crowd ate it up.
Things finished with “The Magnificent 7” and “The Rhythm Changes,” both were vastly different than when we heard the band play them months prior. It’s one thing to ‘jam’ on songs, and allow each member to take an improvised solo in a structured area, but it’s another thing to deliver songs that are momentarily unrecognizable from the album or prior live versions. Patrice Quinn, the vocalist of the band and the keeper of Kamasi’s ‘favorite noise on the planet,’ really injected an unbelievable vibe into the room as she sang these words:
“Our minds, our bodies, our feelings They change, they alter, they leave us Somehow, no matter what happens I’m here The time, the season, the weather The song, the music, the rhythm It seems, no matter what happens I’m here”
The night ended and it was another incredibly impressive show from Kamasi Washington. After selling out the 700-person venue, it was announced that he’ll return to New York City to play Webster Hall in January. It posed the question: when was the last time a rising jazz artist has played Webster Hall? It’s a venue that hosts massive EDM DJs (Diplo, Skrillex, Flux Pavilion) and accomplished indie acts (Destoyer, Mew, Kurt Vile) alike, but jazz bands don’t make it there, at least not that I’ve seen. But as the past two Kamasi shows have indicated, these guys aren’t sticking to the outlines of jazz as created over the past 50 years, they’re destroying the boundaries and moving into unchartered territory. And my God if it isn’t beautiful to watch these guys unfold into the most interesting band on the planet.
Re Run, Miss Understanding, Oscalypso, The Magnificent 7, The Rhythm Changes