Album Review: Harmony of Difference [EP] by Kamasi Washington
Great, Based on 11 Critics
Exclaim - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Anyone who's had the distinct pleasure of experiencing Kamasi Washington's 2015 three-hour tour-de-force LP The Epic knows that the L.A. saxophonist doesn't do tiny. And on his latest EP, Harmony of Difference, Washington delivers an LP's worth of ideas, vision and passion into only six tracks and 33 minutes of music.
Originally composed for an installation at New York's Whitney Museum, Washington (alongside his sister, Amani) presented this work as, "the art of balancing similarity and difference to create harmony between separate ….
Where the standard path through jazz usually involves an ascending series of apprenticeships and supporting gigs, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his compatriots essentially created their own scene in relative isolation in South Central Los Angeles. Washington first gained national notice for his playing and arrangements on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (the album also included contributions from members of Washington’s loose collective, the West Coast Get Down), but by the time that album was released, he was 34 years old and had written enough music for an audacious three-hour, three-disc debut album, 2015’s The Epic.
Instead of a jazz label, that record came out on Flying Lotus’ imprint, Brainfeeder, and Washington’s band got booked to play clubs and festivals that typically host indie rock or rap groups; which is to say that so far, nothing about Washington’s rise fits an established template.
Note by note and phrase by phrase, Harmony of Difference, the new EP by saxophonist Kamasi Washington, builds a towering euphoria within the short span of six songs. The follow-up to his acclaimed 2015 debut, The Epic, Harmony was premiered at the 2017 Whitney Biennial with an accompanying film and related paintings, but the music is rich and resonant on its own in this release. Harmony of Difference is the ideal outgrowth of The Epic, an extension and expansion of the sounds, themes, and expressions of black identity in America that make Washington.
Over the past few years it's felt like jazz had nothing to say, or was embarrassed to say it. Of course the Mercy Music Prize has always featured a jazz album, but this has always felt like a token entry at best. A way of saying, 'Hey we.
One of the great jazz musicians and composer of the current generation, Kamasi Washington was introduced as a collaborator in many excellent hip-hop releases, from genre heavyweights in the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels, to experimental left field artist Flying Lotus and bassist extraordinaire Thundercat. However, the first time he ventured out on his own, Washington released one of the best albums of the decade, in the triple record The Epic. Carrying on in the same tradition of jazz icons John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Washington did not simply pay tribute to these legends but moved the sound forward.
Not only are they song titles, but they also delve into what shapes us as individuals. We all have different perspectives and attitudes towards each of these subjects, and these contradictions in opinion are what Washington is trying to explore throughout this jazz-fuelled expedition. .
Credited with making jazz cool again, Kamasi Washington’s cosmic clout is undeniable. Following his acclaimed 2015 debut album The Epic, this EP finds him exploring the concept of diversity via counterpoint. Where The Epic might occasionally have felt directionless, the succinct nature of Harmony of Difference means there’s a clear purpose: Washington warmly traverses various themes (across both subject and music) and – via the wailing sax on Humility, the sleazy funk of Perspective, and the quasi-bossa nova of Integrity – it’s an enriching listen.
California sax virtuoso Kamasi Washington became the world's hottest jazz musician with 2015's The Epic, a three-disc opus of funky, labyrinthine wailing longer than Apocalypse Now. His first release since trips to Coachella, Bonnaroo and the BET Awards is a tidy EP under 32 minutes, but it still manages to cover plenty of ground. Debuted as part of the 2016 Whitney Biennial, five short numbers warmly flirt with gentle Brazilian flourishes, smooth jazz and a slinky sound that feels like glossy Seventies funk fusion.
H is impressive collaborations with Kendrick Lamar have turned the dashiki-clad tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington into something of a marquee name and a poster boy for a new jazz generation. This mini-album, however, rather shows up his failings as a composer. Where most jazz bandleaders tend to over-write .
My first experience with counterpoint was being forced to learn Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Fugue No. 2 in C Minor, BMV 847”. And I hated it. Not the piece: I hated that my piano teacher made me learn each voice separately; as a hot-headed teen, I was more willing to learn a piece by (clumsily) sight-reading both hands simultaneously.
2015’s ‘The Epic’ clocked in at almost three hours and remains one of the most remarkable debuts of the decade, making no concessions to the potential listener and opting instead to simply array itself magnificently and wait for people to make sense of it. Those that took the time were slow to relinquish their newfound fondness for rhapsodising about an artist who could capture a delicious intensity on record and initiate those fearful of the genre into numerous corners of the jazz world.
Alongside such company, ‘Harmony Of Difference’ is a mere slip of a release, termed an EP for barely exceeding 30 minutes, but much more substantial than that mantle implies.