Published Jun 18, 2016At one point during last night's (June 17) two-hour show at the Danforth Music Hall, a lone piece of lingering confetti — jarred loose from the full-blast commotion — flittered down from the rafters, twisting this way, then that way, as it made its rhythmic descent into a packed crowd. It was telling of how hard Kamasi Washington blew into town.
Washington is groove personified and a future legend in the making. He belongs in a modern class of jazz enablers — think Flying Lotus, Robert Glasper — who have taken the genre baton and sprinted off into new musical territories. He has refreshed the jazz landscape by revering the genre's past but incorporating modern elements in a fashion that remoulds it. The sonic disruptor that was 2015's The Epic caught many off guard, leaving listeners confounded that an artist has been doing this for a while now — see spots on recent D'Angelo and Kendrick Lamar records — is only now getting his wider due.
Amongst an eight-piece ensemble, Washington's presence as bandleader filled the room. Scanning the young, old and diverse faces in the Toronto audience, it was clear that Washington is on to something.
The Epic is a three-hour-long LP, and it was unknown how things would play out in a live show. Kicking things off, though — appropriately enough with The Epic opener "Changing of the Guard" — he set the night's mood, as did a cool-as-hell version "Re Run Home" and a redition of "Henrietta Our Hero" with Patrice Quinn handling the vocals for Washington's ode to his revered grandmother. The high note — on an evening filled with them — was the rendition of "The Rhythm Changes."
Washington offered up select cuts off The Epic along with extended segments featuring his talented bandmates; Miles Mosley is a freaking wiz on the bass, Brandon Coleman is a funky keys virtuoso (albeit overextending his "Moonbutter" performance a touch too long), Ryan Porter (a.k.a "Soul Brotha #1") tore it up on the trombone, drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr. (brother of Thundercat) are unrivalled in craftsmanship, and the soul divinity that is Quinn lends a charmingly elliptical aura to the proceedings.
Washington doesn't play the sax; he commands it. The naturalness on display as the instrument screams, squeals and serenades steals breaths, nods heads. On solos, there was improv in action, with the group of musicians hewing close to the studio cut but still finding room for live reinterpretation.
The Los Angeles-raised saxophonist has clearly soaked up the sounds of artists before him like Coltrane, Ayers and Kuti, as well as Rickey Washington, his father — who was brought out on onstage as a "special treat" during the show.
It's thanks to the jazz styling of the younger Washington, however, that genre appreciation and accessibility is as high as it's been in decades, and rightfully so.
Blow, brother, blow.