February 27, 2024

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Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth tour, live at Middelheim jazz festival in Antwerp, Photos, Full concert video – Jazz under the apple trees

Sure, Kamasi Washington is a powerful soloist who conjures some ecstasy out of his saxophone every time he plays but at a concert going on for one hour and twenty minutes he only played three solos. Have you ever been to another concert by a major jazz star who played so few solos during a concert? It is like the antithesis of Washington’s own saxophone hero John Coltrane who could play solos going on for 20 or 30 minutes, per song.

Washington seems more interested in being an orchestra leader or conceptualist. Everyone in his octet gets a solo, down to the two drummers, and bassist Miles Mosley who has his own career going gets a feature playing one of his own song ”Abraham” on which he sings too, and Washington looks like he really likes what the other soloists are playing as he sways gently and smiles while they are playing.

Washington has just begun his world tour to promote his new album ”Heaven and Earth”. The tour started last week and will go on until November. On Thursday night he played at the Middelheim Jazz Festival in Antwerp where I saw him.

The new album features a lot of strings and choirs to envision Washington’s compositions. How do you play that music live without bringing a whole orchestra and choir with you on tour? Washington brings much of the same band with him with which he did the tour for his big commercial breakthrough album ”The Epic” from three years ago. With powerful bassist Mosley and the double drummer team of Tony Austin and Roland Bruner Jr much of the majesty and passion of the music is moved to the rhythm section.

Unidentified pianist

A lot of the instrumental color is handled by the horn section of Kamasi and his father Rickey Washington on saxophones and trombonist Ryan Porter, and by singer Patrice Quinn who is heavily featured on the vocal tracks from ”Heaven and Earth” as the Kung Fu movie theme ”Fists of Fury”. Who other than Kamasi Washington could get away with playing a Kung Fu movie theme with his artistic credibility still intact? Besides singing Quinn also contributes to the stage show by her hippie-like dancing to the solos.

Patrice Quinn, Drummer Tony Austin, Rickey Washington, Kamasi Washington, Ryan Porter, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr and unindentified pianist. Photo: Jazz Desk.
Patrice Quinn, Drummer Tony Austin, Rickey Washington, Kamasi Washington, Ryan Porter, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr and unidentified pianist. Photo: Jazz Desk.

But the main responsibility for saving some of the sounds of strings and choirs from the album lies on the very talented pianist. He is not featured by name in the program of the festival or on any of Kamasi Washington’s own pages, as is not the rest of the band either, so unfortunately I can not give you his name. Besides being a skilled arranger who actually had sampled voices to create an illusion of choirs, he is also a beautiful soloist on Fender piano or a keyboard which sounded like a Fender, playing with some of the same harmonic and rhythmic fluency as a Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea. In stead of listing his band members Kamasi or his staff lists all the stars of hip hop with whom he has played probably knowing full well that these references are more likely to draw big audiences.

Music for movies

Compared with the album ”The Epic” and with the tour for that album, ”Heaven and Earth” and the tour for it does not sound all that different, it is simply more of the same. To my ears it sounds something like a Hollywood version of jazz with its lush orchestrations and steady rhythms and I do not mean that in any demeaning sense. It is the strings and the choirs often used in music to movies that makes me think that way, and in addition Washington uses a movie theme song.

I often come to think of Argentinian tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri when I hear Washington play. He has that same macho-romantic way of playing as Barbieri with a sometimes hard burning tone. Barbieri played on Don Cherry’s Blue Note albums in the mid 60s, and he went on to record as a solo artist for Impulse records in the 1970s. Perhaps his biggest commercial success was, surprise!, the music with strings he wrote for the macabre romantic movie ”The Last Tango In Paris” starring Marlon Brando.

Do not be to surprised if Kamasi Washington turns up as a composer for movies somewhere in the future but right now he is possibly to busy handling his own and others careers. ~ Jazz Desk.

Drummer Tony Austin, Rickey Washington, Kamasi Washington and Ryan Porter. Photo: Jazz Desk.

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