Kamasi Washington’s ‘Heaven And Earth’ Is A Heady And Existential Epic

06.25.18 5 months ago

Young Turks

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Los Angeles-based tenor saxophonist, composer, and producer Kamasi Washington has been all the talk of jazz circles since his massive 2015 debut, The Epic, and his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. It’s been said, by intellectual authorities such as the Los Angeles Times and NPR that Washington has revitalized the perception of jazz, that he’s made the once-flagging scene exciting again — no La La Land. However, with his latest release, Heaven And Earth he seems disinterested in delivering a product for mainstream understanding or acceptance of a casual fan, instead going right back to his epic well of inspiration for massive, sweeping arrangements that could score spacefaring adventure movies or bring down the house at a packed cathedral.

This is heady, existential stuff, but by no means is it inaccessible. It’s just that accessibility isn’t the first thing on Kamasi’s mind as he leads his band, the Next Step, and the assembled orchestra and vocal choirs to the heights of histrionics in search of nothing less than the meaning of life. He explains that “the Heaven side of this album represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me. Who I am and the choices I make lie somewhere in between,” while “the Earth side of this album represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am a part of.” That interplay between the internal and the external, between thoughts and actions, between faith and works, forms the hinge on which the entire, elaborate contingent spins.

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