It is probably impossible to discuss Kamasi Washington's new record—all three impressive hours of it—without copping to at least some awareness of two extra-musical truths. The first of these holds that, as a member of the studio wrecking crew that brought Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly into being, this saxophonist-composer is unusually well poised to secure the attention of listeners who have previously been uninterested in jazz. (This past spring's celebration of all-things-TPAB was sufficiently strong that Billboard even published a well-reported piece that detailed exactly how Lamar's album came to feature so many jazz figures, including Washington.
The title isn’t kidding – this is a 172-minute spectacular for choir, classical orchestra and jazz band. Leader Kamasi Washington, a flamethrower of a saxophonist with John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders connections, also works for West Coast hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar. Dedicated to bringing jazz to the uninitiated, Epic features soul and gospel vocals, boiling drumming (Art Blakey was a declared inspiration), swing, funk, and voicelike free-jazz blowing.
The Epic is saxophonist Kamasi Washington's aptly titled, triple-length, 172-minute debut album for Brainfeeder. He is a veteran of L.A.'s music scene and has played with Gerald Wilson, Harvey Mason, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar (his horn is prominently featured on To Pimp a Butterfly), to name but a few. Most of his bandmates have played together since high school, and it shows.
Battling upstream against our culture of dwindling attention spans is the appositely titled The Epic – a three-disc, three-hour monster of a jazz album. In an age when music is dismissed within the first 15 seconds of a stream, this feels like a handsome relic from a time of patience and focus. All credit to virtuosic saxophonist Kamsai Washington for having the nerve to do it, and even more credit for managing to completely pull it off.
Part of an exploding network of L.A. visionaries, Kamasi Washington is the sax-wielding jazz guru on recent masterpieces by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. Now he's made one of his own — a three-disc debut on FlyLo's label with a 10-piece band, plus choir and strings. To be sure, it's a jazz album, as much about tradition as expanding it, informed by Coltranes (John and Alice), Miles Davis fusions, bebop and more; yet it's clearly shaped by crate-digger funk and film scores, hip-hop collage and gospel.