Kamasi Washington is responsible for much of the arrangement on Kendrick's peerless To Pimp A Butterfly, but now he’s striking out on his own. His debut album, forthcoming on Brainfeeder, is a 172-minute opus featuring a 32-piece orchestra and a 20-person choir, fittingly titled The Epic. Miss Understanding shows what Washington is about - spiritual, maximalist jazz that fits squarely into the Coltrane lineage.
It is probably impossible to discuss Kamasi Washington's new record—all three impressive hours of it—without copping to at least some awareness of two extra-musical truths.
The idea is simple: Listen to more jazz. And if you heed that advice, you need to listen to more Kamasi Washington, the South Central– and Inglewood-raised saxophonist who might have made the best modern jazz record of the year.
A few weeks ago, the jazz tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washingtonstood onstage at a club in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with his band, the Next Step, ending a version of the ballad standard “My One and Only Love” with an improvised closing tag, like a group cadenza.
Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, saxophonist Kamasi Washington introducing his massive three-disc jazz collection called "The Epic" on a Monday night to a sold-out, audibly electric crowd. With a title like that, the dozens of musicians packing the stage -- brass, strings, keyboards, choir, percussion and bass -- had better deliver.
The Epic swims in rhythmic crosscurrents, with two bassists, two keyboard players, two drummers. It's made tall and wide by the presence of strings and voices, made forceful and direct by horn solos and singer Patrice Quinn. It seems intentionally to overwhelm, in an immersive way; it's music to be swept up by and revisited after the wave subsides.