There’s an L.A movement going on and incase you’ve missed it, the new vanguard of musicians – Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington – have been leading the charge in identifying this new movement. Now people are paying attention, simply cos these are some ‘bad cats’ out there.
The musical paradigm shift going on in L.A is now spreading across the globe, and these new stalwarts of Jazz are breaking the boundaries between genres and architecting the sonic undercurrent of some of 2015’s greatest albums. Their music comes out of a spiritual place but its undoubtedly a direct response to where they come from and is a representation of who they are – a product of their circumstances and their DNA. Active on the L.A scene, this avant guard set of musicians have been fusing all their influences into an ‘epic’ jazz epilogue of a new music generation.
It could be a case of historic repetition but these guys call themselves “The Next Step” and the “The West Coast Get Down” and as a band of musicians who are all from Los Angeles, mostly South Central, its members, have been congregating since they were barely teenagers in a backyard shack in Inglewood, inheriting and then transcending their place.
“These young guys,” the rapper Common says, “remind me of why I love music.”
When Kamasi Washington and co-Brainfeeder label mate Thundercat lent their collaborative genius to the Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly it changed the spirit of Hip-Hop and expressed the prolific depth of the culture. The LA musical scene had made its mark by fusing Hip-Hop, electronic music, and Jazz on To Pimp A Butterfly – and it was breathtaking.
Kamasi grew up in Inglewood, South Central listening to ‘Gangsta Rap’ from NWA to Dre to rappers like Nas and Busta Rhymes. When his cousin got him into Art Blakely he dove into Jazz, heading on a journey which eventually led him to discovering John Coltrane. Kamasi saw himself as all over the place when it came to his musical influences but it transformed the way he approached his own music – later he would get to work with some of the same rappers he grew up listening to including Nas and going on tour with Snoop Dog who had a profound effect on Kamasi musically. For Kamasi one of his career highlight’s was to have had the opportunity to play Black Frost with Harvey Mason, he saw it as the closest he would ever get to being Grover Washington.
Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label has been the perfect platform for Kamasi Washington to be able to take Jazz, make it ‘gangsta’ and put out his album, and he’s made it into something unexpected and dangerous.
In May of 2015, the brazen release from this young Los Angeles jazz giant, composer, and bandleader, The Epic has been unlike anything jazz has seen, and not just because it’s emanated from the boundary-defying Brainfeeder, which isn’t so much a label in the traditional sense as it is an unfurling experiment conducted by the underground producer Flying Lotus.
Kamasi Washington has created The Epic, a 172-minute, three-volume set that includes a 32-piece orchestra, a 20-person choir, and 17 songs overlaid with a compositional score written by Washington. Pulsing underneath is an otherworldly ten-piece band, each member of which is individually regarded as among the best young musicians on the planet – including bassist Thundercat and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., bassist, Miles Mosley, drummer Tony Austin, keyboard player Brandon Coleman, pianist Cameron Graves, and trombonist Ryan Porter. Patrice Quinn’s ethereal vocals round out the ensemble.
“Nothing compares to these guys,” says Barbara Sealy, the former West Coast director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, who has championed Kamasi and his compatriots from the beginning. “I challenge any group to go out on stage with them and see if they can keep up with it… Kamasi is at the top of his game, and only getting better.”
And the story The Epic tells, without words but rather through some combination of magic, mastery, and sheer force of imagination, is the story of Kamasi Washington and the Next Step and their collective mission: to remove jazz from the shelf of relics and make it new, unexpected, and dangerous again. They seek to both honour and alter tradition: as The Epic’s opening track announces, they are the “Changing of the Guard”. The sound can be felt like flames, sometimes waving in the coziness of a fireplace, in other moments sweeping everything around like a backdraft. But Kamasi is always in control of the burning.
“He just plays the craziest shit, man. I mean, everything — the past, present, the future,” Flying Lotus says, whose family lineage includes one of Washington’s direct musical forebears, John Coltrane. “It’s hard to find unique voices in this music. Especially in jazz, more so lately, everybody is trying to do the same shit. I don’t want to hear ‘My Favorite Things’ anymore… What I am hearing is a leader among artists.”
3 x black 180g 12″s in artworked 3mm spined sleeves all housed in a rigid board outer slipcase. Half speed cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy Mastering. Includes 2 x 12″ poster inserts featuring exclusive artwork by KC Woolf Haxton and story adaptation and calligraphy by Kenturah Davis. MP3 download code also enclosed.
Kamasi will be performing at his London debut in November, at the London Jazz Festival alongside Gogo Penguin, Lynne Page on