Kamasi Washington has been riding high off his 2015 release, The Epic, and has now dropped one of the best EPs of the year with Harmony of Difference.
|Artist: Kamasi Washington
Album Title: Harmony of Difference
Label: Young Turks
You’d be forgiven for not wanting to delve into Kamasi Washington’s gargantuan 2015 release, The Epic, coming in at a whopping 173 minutes. Albums this long are music’s answer to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which some people only embark upon because the length in itself is a challenge and therefore part of the fun. Long album formats are back in vogue now, with acts like Swans, Father John Misty, Sun Kil Moon and er… Chris Brown dropping incredibly lengthy albums recently. Equally, Jazz has made an unlikely comeback. Society has a way of protecting endangered species when it gets to the point that they’re on the verge of extension; it’s at this point that Vinyl became cool again and now the same can be said for Jazz.
Maybe we can attribute Washington’s success to those two simple cultural shifts, except for the fact that he’s helped spearhead them in the last few years. In 2015 he worked with Kendrick Lamar on the compositions for the modern classic, To Pimp a Butterfly, and as a result new avenues presented themselves to the artist that would usually be blocked off to a Jazz musician. The Epic was an amalgamation of all the compositions Washington had been storing up until that time, which were finally unleashed unabridged and untamed. It’s a wild 3 hour experience which illustrates perfectly how Jazz has adapted and evolved in the 21st century, and there’s a whole new batch of modern listeners now to experience it.
Jazz has not evolved to incorporate programmed beats and synthesisers (as you might have seen in Damian Chazelle’s 2016 film, La La Land). The organic live band feel is still there in Washington’s work, as are the free form experiments and improvisations. What Washington managed to do (which completely complemented the length of The Epic) was make his orchestrations incredibly lavish, large and detailed. It’s a big ask to listen to, yes, but it’s worth it because of the amount of volume and content he brought to the table.
Harmony of Difference is minuscule in comparison, clocking in at around half an hour. Washington doesn’t attempt epicness on this EP, but still manages to bring every piece of his onion-like compositions to the table. The layering of levels of instrumentation is superb on this album and it’s evidenced straight away on the first track, which lays down the beachcombing, old worldly feel that reappears on several tracks.
Each track greets you with inviting saxophone shreds, rampant drum beats, rumbling bass being taken for a walk, and playful piano clanks. Conciseness is the key here and helps to establish the more atmospheric quality to these tracks. If we were impressed with the crescendo of spiralling instrumentation on The Epic, what is impressive on this project is the craftsmanship of tone and atmosphere. The first five tracks are all below the four minute mark and all transport you to different settings at different points in time. There is a Latin Jazz quality to ‘Perspective’ and ‘Integrity’, whilst ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Desire’ have an outdoorsy Miami Beach feel.
The EP closes with the only long track and the only one which harks back to The Epic in terms of its structure and instrumental qualities. For anybody interested in the Jazz renaissance Washington is in some way spearheading, then Harmony of Difference is a great gateway; it is a profession of Washington’s unique approach to the medium as well as an example of the transformative quality to the best works of art.