He sure has changed the idea of what a "full length" record is. Kamasi Washington follows his debut triple-album The Epic from 2015 with his double-LP follow up Heaven and Earth this Summer, and The New Cool previews an "epic" song from the new release this Saturday on KNKX.
Since The Epic was released (to universal acclaim), Washington has kept himself busy touring and collaborating. He's been blowing his saxophone with Terrace Martin in the group The Pollyseeds, his friends from the West Coast Get Down collective Cameron Graves and Ryan Porter, as well as other L.A. friends like Ronald Bruner and Thundercat.
Last year fans had to be satisfied with Washington's 5-song EP Harmony of Difference which you've been hearing on KNKX, but it was merely a prelude to this new expanded collection of his modern take on the jazz style known as "spiritual jazz."
Built on John Coltrane's efforts to blend his avant garde jazz with non-western musical and religious traditions, the style grew with artists like Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Alice Coltrane. It became associated with the political and cultural struggles of the 60s, quickly connecting to the black identity movement and the fight for civil rights.
Ever the philosopher, Washington recently tweeted an explanation of his new album's title, “The Earth side represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am a part of. The Heaven side represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me.”
Kamasi Washington's music continues to exceed modern notions of what "jazz" music is. The elements of hip-hop, classical and R&B music, all major influences on the young saxophonist and bandleader, now include influences from the world of film scores. The first single from Heaven and Earth certainly points in that direction.
"Fists of Fury" is one of two songs unveiled in advance of the album's June 22nd release (along with "The Space Traveler's Lullaby"), and stretches out nearly ten minutes with punchy strings atop a hypnotic funky rhythm. It's a fresh arrangement of Joseph Koo's theme from the 1972 Bruce Lee kung-fu flick, and when the voices begin with the wordless melodic theme, I can picture film credits running as I'm transported into a world of adventure.
When the lyrics kick in, singers Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible frame the story of our hero who's struggles to help his fellow man are met by "unjust injury", resulting in the promised furious fisticuffs. Tasty solos follow from pianist Cameron Graves and Kamasi Washington's muscular saxophone. The powerful voices of Quinn and Trible cry out for justice, and again Washington's band makes a long song magically fly by in no time.
The cinematic connections don't end with this song. Washington has also shared minute long videos for both advance tunes. The clips are from director Jenn Nkiru's forthcoming film project to accompany Heaven and Earth, expected to arrive later this year.
The June 22nd release is available for pre-order now as a 2-CD set as well as a gorgeously packaged 4-LP collection, and Seattle fans can already get tickets for Kamasi Washington's October 17th concert at the Showbox. The show is sure to sell out quickly, and The New Cool will be working to connect with the saxophone sensation when he brings his band to town, so stay tuned!
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5p, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.