(Bio by Rocco Stilo)
Los Angeles-born (1981) US jazz saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington debuted in early 2000s as sideman of Ryan Adams and of Twilight Singers.
First part of his career was marked with releases of several self-produced albums, all now rare and very hard to find. He founded the Young Jazz Giants, recording in summer 2003 the namesake and only album by that lineup, comprising of Cameron Graves (piano and electric piano), Stephen Bruner (bass), and his brother Ronald (drums), both later members of Suicidal Tendencies.
Then he formed The Next Step, a lineup comprising of Ryan Porter (trombone), Brandon Coleman (keyboards), Cameron Graves (piano), Miles Mosley (acoustic bass), Stephen Bruner (electric bass), and Robert Miller (drums), documented on the self produced 2CD set Live At 5th Street Dick’s, released in 2005, that features six long pieces composed by Washington, especially the 23-minute The Next Step and the 18-minute Changing of the Guard. The Proclamation and Light Of The World were the first full credited albums, both self-produced. The former, recorded in 2006, sports the same lineup of previous live 2CD set; the latter features a sextet along with bassist Jae Deal, drummer Robert Miller, Brandon Coleman on electric piano and vocalist Manhi-Xan.
The Epic started a new period of his career, when he finally found a label prepared to deliver his works. This 3-disc set, possibly his most meaningful album, and recorded, as Washington states in this interview, in december 2011 (but released in 2015 only), was a tour de force performed by the saxtenorist with his Next Step, extended to a large ensemble (basically acoustic), with a string tentet, a choir and vocalists, four drummers, two bassists, trumpet, trombone, piano and organ. Notable all of the four side-long pieces: the 58-minute five-movement suite The Plan, whose themes were all composed by the leader; the 57-minute seven-movement suite The Glorious Tale, again composed by Washington; the 57-minute five-movement suite The Historic Repetition, comprising of a version of Debussy’s Clair De Lune. Moments for soloists are mostly for reeds and piano, but more frequent are the collective approachs, that are reminiscent of the “spiritual jazz” of ‘60s (above all John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders).
Heaven And Earth (recorded over a 2-week session in three studios during 2017, and released in 2018) was another tour de force, a 4-disc set performed by another large mostly acoustic ensemble. Both CD and vinyl editions contain a fifth disc, The Choice, that’s is hidden in a closed part of the packaging (and you have to discover it to get the disc!). Written by Washington, aside of two covers and a version of Bruce Lee’s movie Fists of Fury, these 145 minutes (plus the 39 of the extra disc), divided in two parts (heaven and earth), are so presented by the reedist: “The Earth side of this album 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. Who I am and the choices I make lie somewhere in between”.
Sessionman in several lineups, Washington also released some EPs. Harmony Of Difference, possibly the most notable, is a six-movement suite (32 minutes), premiered in march 2017 at Biennal Whitney Museum of American Art, more melodic and strongly counterpointed, especially in the 13:30-minute Truth.