A photo posted by Philipp Walzer (@pwalzer) on Oct 15, 2015 at 11:19pm PDT
The first annual BRIC Jazz Festival kicked into high gear last night with a headlining performance by Kamasi Washington and a number of other top-notch acts. New York’s Ben Williams was leading a band called Sound Effect when we walked into what was called the “Stoop”: a gallery with giant stairs for people to sit on. The quintet was killing it, but it was just one of the stages of the event.
The Artist Studio hosted a capacity crowd for keyboardist Kris Bowers before virtuosic guitarist Nir Felder took the stage. Both acts, while different, displayed top level musicianship spearheaded by their respective leaders. Meanwhile, Japanese trumpeter Takuya Kuroda took the stage at the aforementioned Stoop stage for a dose of uptempo funk-jazz. The sound in each room was on point, and each artist that we saw displayed a style forward-thinking jazz music. However, the night’s headliner, and jazz phenomenon of the year, Kamasi Washington, seemed to be the main focus of the evening.
Washington took the stage with his band, The Next Step, and leaped into “Change of the Guard” after a vibe-setting introduction. To put it simply: a Kamasi Washington show is a sonic roller coaster ride. There are moments of shrieking saxophone schizophrenia, and pin-drop quiet meditational medleys as well. The music can hit any range of emotion, and it often does within the same song. Then again, that isn’t too farfetched given the song length; the band played four songs in an hour and fifteen minutes.
Kamasi’s solo on “Change of the Guard” was damn impressive, and after minutes of grueling tension, the band eased back into the hook, but it wasn’t like you’ll hear it on The Epic, Kamasi’s 2015 triple-disc opus. The sextet slowed it down considerably, adding a Dilla-esque drumbeat to get the crowd’s heads boppin’. The second song was “Final Thought” featuring Terrace Martin, who was sporting a brand new silver saxophone. It would seem those Kendrick royalty checks are starting to accumulate nicely, but Martin is just as potent on stage with a saxophone as he is in the studio alongside west coast royalty (he’s also worked with Snoop Dogg).
Kamasi let the crowd know that they were going to play a new song next. While most of the crowd was probably expecting another epic jazz composition, everyone was pleasantly surprised when things got really really funky. Bassist Miles Mosely began things with a truly shredding bass solo. It was literally mind-bending to watch him create such a wide array of sounds out of a standup bass. Truly a site to be seen. After a lengthy build-up, he surprisingly took the vocals to sing the funky number dubbed “Abraham.” It was an interesting departure from the expected programming, and the crowd ate it up.
The last song stretched for 20+ minutes, and not only displayed the groups ability to improvise fearlessly, but it also showcased Washington’s ability as a band leader. While talking to the crowd before the number, he said that the band had never played the song like this before, and that the rest of the band didn’t even know what was about to happen. He then told us that keyboardist Brandon Coleman and vocalist Patrice Quinn (who had been relatively quiet last night compared to the Blue Note show we saw a couple months ago) were going to kick it off. From there, drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr. were going to bring everybody in before Coleman was going to take a solo. Then the drummers would dual before bringing them all back in again. He joked about the band ‘hating’ him for doing this impromptu conducting, and acknowledged the possibility that his vision may not come to fruition how he’s planned it in his head. However, if it did, we would hear the song like nobody else has heard it before. Kamasi sounds like a bit of a mad scientist with this kind of stage banter, but he’s really onto something.
The musicians played exactly how Kamasi laid it out. “Askim” was a relentless ebb-and-flow of blissful beauty and build-and-release solos. The group went over there time, and Kamasi brought his father out to play a bit before they had to officially call it a night (Washington told us that they had planned for one more that would feature his dad, but had run out of time). It would prove that an hour and fifteen minutes is just a little too short for Washington and company, who like to take the songs deep into new realm in a thoroughly fun and interesting style of jazz. It’s no wonder the guy is popping up on music festival lineups. It’s no wonder people are catching on though; this is just spectacular music, point blank, enjoyable for all ages and sexes and races and types. If you like expression, or art, you’ll love this. (And you do if you read this.) Don’t hesitate to see Kamasi Washington if he comes to your area.
Setlist: Introduction> Change of the Guard, Final Thought (w/ Terrace Martin), Abraham, Askim (w/ Rickey Washington)
Father and son. Rickey and Kamasi Washington. #deappelvaltnietvervandeboom #bricjazzfest #bk A photo posted by lesley jacobs (@tilito) on Oct 15, 2015 at 11:03pm PDT