Kamasi Washington Releases Refined ‘Harmony of Difference’ EP
Kamasi Washington is the man who brought jazz into the modern-day mainstream with 2015’s “The Epic,” a triple-disc debut spanning three-hours. The album, while critically acclaimed and beloved, spread like wildfire partially due the saxophonist’s contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s equally well-received “To Pimp a Butterfly” released only a few months prior. Washington is associated not only with the Compton rapper but LA’s own beat maestro Flying Lotus who released Washington’s LP under his Brainfeeder label. With promotional help from his friends, “The Epic” shined a light on a seemingly lost genre, making Washington the quasi-leader of L.A.’s rediscovered jazz scene. Back now with a follow-up EP entitled “Harmony of Difference,” the renowned saxist aims to continue his voyage into contemporary jazz compositions.
Coming in at six tracks, the album not only showcases Washington’s skill as a tenor saxophonist, but of his undeniably robust arrangements capable of instilling a tremendous amount of feeling in the listener. An idea that co-curator Christopher Y. Lew had in mind when he recruited Washington to participate in The Whitney Biennial earlier this year in New York. From this exhibition came “Harmony of Difference,” a journey into bringing that which is separate, together.
Though with only a modest track listing, this EP manages plenty. The tantalizing lead –off “Desire” bridges itself with the second track in a seamless fashion after pianist Cameron Graves trades solos with Washington himself. This brings in “Humility,” where a big band horn section takes its cues from the 1970’s. “Perspective” begins abstract but soon reveals a rich breakdown lead by Washinton’s sax and catchy instrumental chorus – this is another one of his charms, crafting catchy wordless choruses which you’ll be humming long after the song wraps. This tune also features fellow jazz-nerd and Brainfeeder signee Thundercat adding his signature electric bass touches. Before the main event (“Truth”), “Integrity” lends elements of Latin percussion and Bossa Nova rhythms, even featuring the Brazilian cuica drum, which you may know as the thing that sounds similar to a straw being pulled in and out of a to-go cup.
The video for the lead-single “Truth,” directed by AG Rojas, is like flipping through three stranger’s old photo albums. The first part, showing various scenes of diversity, slowly play out as Washington’s delicate saxophonic undertones lead the way towards a meaningful crescendo of sound. The song spans a staggering 13-plus minutes, slowly building with each and every second, before dropping in volume, and changing pace for the second part, which again, builds wonderfully as the camera very slowly pans towards a solitary man reading a newspaper. While maintaining the orchestral arrangements, the third and final part of the video once again focuses on diversity. As the individual’s lives play out, so does Washington’s saxophone, culminating in a breathtaking flurry of images and sound which seem to draw a direct line between humanity and the cosmos, i.e. divine connection.
Washington’s message comes at a time when many artists have chosen to showcase the breadth of diversity our country has to offer. It’s right in the title, after all. The “Harmony of Difference” is an overwhelming reminder of the way artists can draw clear lines between people who may otherwise be separated. This idea of the “counterpoint,” or the search for the connections in different individuals, is central to the album. Sure, it may seem difficult to think in such as way when listening to instrumental jazz, but simply knowing this idea is behind the music is all Washington wants to instil. Or, as he said leading up the its release, “This project is more than music…”
“Harmony of Difference’ is available Sept. 29 on Apple Music.