Friday, August 7, 2015

Live review: Kamasi Washington, Chop Shop (8/6/2015)

Posted By on Fri, Aug 7, 2015 at 3:42 PM

Kamasi Washington
Chop Shp
August 6, 2015
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEFF HAHNE
  • Photo by Jeff Hahne

Last night, the planets aligned for Kamasi Washington. At least, that’s the way it seemed to the wildly appreciative Chop Shop audience and the six man – and one woman – strong collective of rocking soul-jazz musicians assembled onstage.

Chop Shop’s street-art styled wall painting of the word “Epic” – which harkens to the title of Washington’s sprawling three disc masterwork, The Epic – must have been a sign that a seriously in-synch and free flowing gig was in store for performers and audience.

Consider this: Silvery keys by Cameron Graves and hissing hi hats courtesy of dual drummers Tony Austin and Lyndon Rochelle ushered in Patrice Quinn’s majestic wordless vocal. Ryan Porter’s rich trombone entered, doubled by Washington’s energized tenor sax. The sophisticated, mystic vibe, as soulful as John Coltrane’s on “A Love Supreme”, escalated to a swirling, skronking sax-led work out, which splintered into hard bop blasts flashing like a beacon.

And that was just the opening number, “Change of the Guard.”

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEFF HAHNE
  • Photo by Jeff Hahne

There were plenty more changes in store over the course of the band’s varied and invigorated set. Certainly there were nods to the great jazz-rock fakebook. Anchored by Miles Mosley’s throaty upright bass, “Passion” boasted dual drums crashed like surf on jagged rocks, recalling the more frenzied moments on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

Yet Washington’s stylistic sweep was not just confined to adventurous jazz, or solely to his compositions.

“Back in 2011, I recorded The Epic with eight of my friends, most of whom are onstage tonight,” Washington told the crowd. “But (in the same session) they recorded their own albums. Want to hear some new music?”

With his bass emblazoned with “Hey NC. #The Epic Tour”, Mosley took the spotlight with his composition “Abraham.” Running his instrument through a pedal board with enough hardware to perplex NASA, including two wah-wahs, Mosley elicited unearthly zither-like trills, before the sweeping and cinematic piece morphed into majestic Mesopotamian funk. Porter’s unnamed contribution, all slipknot sax, rat-a-tat trombone and labyrinthine rhythms, was next.

“If you can tell what time signature (this tune) is in, I’m going to give you a red lolly,” said Washington laughing.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEFF HAHNE
  • Photo by Jeff Hahne
Capping the “friends and family” atmosphere onstage, Washington introduced “his pops”, Rickey Washington, who “taught us all.” This was no exaggeration; the elder Washington is a high school music teacher and accomplished musician in his own right. He stepped out from his post behind the merch table and joined the band on saxophone for “Malcolm’s Theme.” The tune, part spiritual, part aria, set Ossie Davis’ eulogy for Malcolm X to music penned by Terence Blanchard, and provided a showcase for Quinn’s vocal, by turns sorrowful, soaring and hair raising.

Further surprises included Graves’ prog-rock inflected “Planetary Prince.” Borne on the ascending UFO squall of Mosley’s bass, the composition took flight to the outer rim of the galaxy.

Set closer “The Rhythm Changes” was carried by Quinn’s silky vocals enveloped in a smooth grove. As horns wailed like distant sirens and polyrhythmic percussion hammered like the clangor of traffic, the hip-swaying number ascended gradually from sophisticated late night pop to uplifting, universal anthem.

“We have some music for y’all,” Washington said earlier in the set, “Hope you like it.”

We don’t just like music like this, Kamasi. We need it.

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