Saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington has been slowly cementing himself as the harbinger of all things righteous and groovy in the modern jazz scene. After his massive triple-album “The Epic,” that simmered with jazz-rock fusion sounds and galactic instrumentation, Washington has gifted us a new EP called “Harmony of Difference,” continuing to redefine what the new players are capable of.
The song list on “Harmony of Difference” rings out like a new age album from its heyday — opening track “Desire” hits us with an irresistible groove, blending elements of jazz and R&B until they’re mixed into a delicious cocktail. The song drips with color, allowing us to dive far into its details or let it add texture to our environment. Washington’s music works either way.
Second track “Humility” continues the sort of 70s maximalist jazz that Washington summoned from the depths on “The Epic,” utilizing complicated soundscapes of instruments and choral voices to lend a gigantic size to his compositions. With big-band horn lines painted on top, it’s a blend of old and new jazz with enough groove to bring even non-jazz fans into the fray.
Washington doesn’t seem to make a wrong step the whole album. The ambient swirl that opens up “Perspective” only gives us, well, more perspective on what the band is capable of. When we land in the song’s smooth jazz rhythm, it only tastes that much sweeter, using contrast as another weapon at the band’s disposal.
“Integrity” just continues the party. The song lifts us into the sky, offering us a path through the clouds and into the tropical paradise that Washington and company have created for us. Sweeping horn lines accent the rhythmic parade underneath, creating an infectious dynamic sound that borders on evoking floral hallucinations. Close your eyes and you’re moving through the draping palms in a primeval forest, stumbling across the aquamarine lake that’s always swirled in your daydreams.
But the whole album only feels like a lead up when we arrive at the 13-minute closer to the EP, “Truth.” With the sonic power of the band (which on “Truth” includes an impressive lineup of musicians, including Thundercat on electric bass), it’s hard to deny this “truth” that Washington is selling. The enormous, multi-part song morphs through different colors and flavors of jazz, sometimes grooving behind movie-soundtrack strings or the powerful surge of choral voices that sound lifted from a Hollywood Epic set in the Middle East.
The spiritual and musical path that Washington forged on “The Epic” rises and manifests in all its glory on “Harmony of Difference.” The tireless saxophone player is making his case as one of the most powerful jazzmen of our day, and he’s inviting us to join us on his journey. With music as his sword, his notes slash through illusions of separation, building joy through the shared music of jazz. As “Truth” comes to a close in strokes of syncopation and a sparkling synthetic texture, I’m reminded of the words from “The Rhythm Changes,” one of the songs from “The Epic:”
“Our love, our beauty, our genius
Our work, our triumph, our glory
Won’t worry what happened before me
Kamasi Washington’s truth is in his music, wrapped in the exalting color of oceanic arrangements and transcendent instrumentation. We’re all invited along for a ride to the stars, and, bathed in the saxophone player’s interstellar jazz, I’ll admit that I’m already a believer.
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