When was the last time a jazz musician sold out a 1500-person room in New York City? On a Wednesday night, nevertheless? I’m sure it’s happened, but I’m legitimately curious as to who, when, where, and how.
The ‘how,’ in this case, is Kamasi Washington’s unprecedented rise to stardom over the past year. It was six months ago, exactly, today that I saw Kamasi for the first time at the Blue Note jazz club in Greenwich Village. There was a line around the block for that show, the band’s fourth of a two-night / four-show run, and a local even inquired as to who was playing because she had never seen a line like that for the Blue Note.
The rise to stardom, at least partially, can be attributed to Kamasi’s non-traditional jazz qualities: the band is loose, having fun, and playing music that’s accessible for all. Whether you want to grip onto Patrice Quinn’s soulful croon, the band’s jamming sensibility, or their Brainfeeder aesthetic, there’s something a whole lot less stale about Kamasi than almost any other jazz band I’ve ever seen. Sometimes something different is exactly what you need to jam a massive concert hall on a Wednesday night, which is just what happened last night.
The show, which was produced by New York City Winter Jazzfest, was originally supposed to take place in January as part of the five-day festival. Kamasi broke his foot, though, and thus the show was rescheduled to February 24th. It was fitting, however, for the show to cap off the festival. As NYCWJF’s most grandiose offering, Kamasi Washington & the Next Step ran through a two-hour set to an ecstatic crowd that was younger, more alive, and more stoned than your usual jazz crowd.
The band hit the stage promptly at nine and wasted no time getting to work. “Change of the Guard,” one of The Epic‘s more, well, epic tracks was first on the setlist. Jazz is traditionally a medium of improvisation, but this band takes things to the next level. Usually each solo differs from night to night, but after seeing The Next Step four times, I can say that they’ve played very arrangements of their tracks each time. The same type of change that occurs to a jam band’s catalog over a few years seems to take place in Kamasi’s band on a monthly basis. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
“Askim” followed, allowing Patrice Quinn to unleash that beautiful, sultry voice of hers. Aside from one obnoxious ass, the room was totally quiet, allowing for a deep moment of peace in the center of the city that never sleeps. After Quinn shined bright, bassist Miles Mosely led the band with one of his songs, “Abraham.” The funky track is the perfect break from the band’s more avant-garde stylings, and will be the perfect get-down when they travel to festivals like Electric Forest, Okeechobee, and Bonnaroo this year.
It might go without saying that Kamasi Washington & the Next Step are great musicians, but the point can’t really be understated. These dudes really, really play the hell out of their instrument. Brandon “Professor Boogie” Coleman played more than one jaw-dropping solo as he shredded the keytar throughout the gig. The drummers, comprised of Ronald Bruner Jr. (Thundercat’s brother) and Tony Austin (who engineered The Epic and the other albums recorded during that instantly legendary session), were beaming all night long, with an especially awesome dual coming towards the end of the set.
A new song called “Giant Feelings” featured trumpet player Igmar Thomas and a hip hop beat that’ll make you wanna slap your momma (don’t do that, kids). Ending with “Re Run” and “The Rhythm Changes” was a phenomenal way to go out, as the tracks bring that top-notch energy that has landed Kamasi on the tip of everybody’s tongues. It’s an exciting time for music at large when ultra-complex tunes can pack a room as large as Webster Hall’s. Kamasi is leading a wave right now, and it’s a pleasure to surf on it.
Setlist: Change of the GuardAskimAbraham (a Miles Mosely song)Henrietta Our HeroGiant Feelings (a new song) (Drums) Re RunThe Rhythm Changes