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CD REVIEW: THE EPIC, KAMASI WASHINGTON (2015 Brainfeeder) by Larry Reni Thomas
(Published: June 24, 2015)

Los Angeles, California-born and based, tenor saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington's "The Epic,"( 2015, Brainfeeder) is a correctly titled, excellent, exciting, big band-flavored, orchestral-sounding, three-CD set that could indeed become an epic because there hasn't been any recording like it in years. "The Epic" could be called an updated version of "Africa Brass/Sessions," (1961, Impulse) the classic. thumping, groovy historic session recorded in a big band ensemble setting by John Coltrane and a host of heavyweights, including trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and reedman Eric Dolphy. Or it could be called a fresh spin on Miles Dewey Davis's "Bitches Brew" (1970, Columbia), which won a Grammy in 1971 for best large jazz ensemble. Or it could be tagged a contemporary rendering of bassist Charles Mingus's "Let My Children Hear Music (1972, Columbia), which featured a large orchestra and includes one of my favorites-"The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jiveass Slippers." But, it is pianist Herbie Hancock's rocking, funky, "Manchild" (1975, Columbia) that comes to mind when one first listens to this masterpiece , which is 172 minutes long, and includes a 32-piece orchestra, 20-person choir and 17 original selections.

Kamasi Washington, 34-years-old, has a tenor saxophone sound that resembles Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, all rolled up into one big fat distinctive roar. This is especially evident with the swinging tune called "Miss Understanding," which is a 4/4 gem. To say it swings mightily, would be an understatement. It is the tune that stands out and the one that satisfies and convinces the critic that these cats, who call themselves, as the first tune states, "the changing of the guard," know how to swing. It also silences anyone who would say that the album is a gimmick, that it's overdone, it's too much. Especially after the media reported that Washington said he had many more compositions and that he had to reduce the number of selections he really wanted to record. Not only is it not too much. It's just right, and it also makes you want more. Although at first it takes a while to wrap your head around it, once that happens, then, "The Epic" becomes a smooth sailing. head-bobbing, toe-tapping Los Angeles-vibe, ride.

The best tune, "Re-Run Home" is a forceful. festive, 14 minute-long, tour-de-force that starts out with a serious bass line from the bassist known as Thundercat (Stephen Bruner). The beat can only be described as African-centered, on the one and exotically pulsating. Then the horn section chimes in like rolling thunder, setting up a chorus that fits quite well with Washington's strong solo. Trombonist Ryan Porter's outstanding J.J. Johnson-like solo on that tune and the two, Washington and Porter. along with hot trumpeter Igmar Thomas, trading licks adds sweet scorching spice to the selection. This is an exquisite perfect example of an extremely tight band, with musicians who have played together in the Los Angeles area for years. They include Thundercat's brother, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., bassist Miles Mosley, trumpeter Igmar Thomas, keyboardist , Brandon Coleman, pianist Cameron Graves and vocalists Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible. Other highlights from the album are "Malcolm's Theme," which includes excerpts from a Malcolm X speech, and the last composition called "The Message." Unfortunately, there is a "Cornelious factor" as in corny, in the recording, The use of the "angelic" voices, on several tunes, is a bit much. But, after a thorough and repeated listening, the voices don't seem to matter as much as the music. "The Epic" is a sure Grammy nominee and is highly-recommended for those who enjoy fresh adventurous music that reflects the tenor of times and music that reminds you of only one thing-Mama Africa!

More Information: http://kamasiwashington.com/

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