Hollywood, CA- Ever leave a show and just have to talk about how incredible it was, to total strangers if need be? That was the middle-aged lady sitting next to me after Kamasi Washington’s set wound down. She was one hundred percent right, too.
Calling it “Kamasi Washington’s set” is, on the surface, perhaps a bit misleading; he’s sharing the stage with players like Miles Mosely and Cameron Graves, players who can pack venues the size of the El Rey on their own names. At this point, these shows feel like Avengers movies.
But there’s no mistaking a Kamasi Washington show for anything else on earth. I’ve seen his live act three times now. The first time was at this (incredible) avant-garde festival in Knoxville, TN; this means I got the Kamasi Washington experience in a space which was maybe a bigger version of the Troubadour. What I mean by this is that a Kamasi Washington show happens directly at you; there’s just so much sheer musicianship onstage, and the compositions are so intricate, that keeping up with everything can be almost overwhelming. In particular, a song like “The Rhythm Changes” – the ensemble’s big concluding showstopper – benefits from being blasted into open air over being subjected to the geometry of a club; they’re both incredible aesthetic experiences, but it’s definitely preferable to hear something which could pass on a golden-era Syreeta LP in the open air if you can.
Anyway: the lesson that I learned from that first gig was to go see Kamasi Washington play anywhere, under any circumstances. Several months later, I got the chance to see him play in the Disney Concert Hall, but I was only able to get tickets behind the orchestra, sitting just a few rows above the actual players. It was weird, but also instructive; it was absolute, final proof that there are in fact no bad seats in that hall, and it was the perfect angle to watch conductor Geoff “Double G” Gallegos work his magic and unpack the timing behind some of those arrangements. (Orchestras and choirs play great at the Bowl, of course, so Double G’s Also, the show took place on Sunday, November 6th, making it the last indisputably great thing I can remember happening before the election (when all news became [only, ever] bad).
The Bowl show, I am pleased to report, was more of the same, by which I mean further irrefutable confirmation that Kamasi Washington’s live show is the best show in music today. I want to heap particular praise on Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr., the ensemble’s confoundingly incredible pair of drummers; it’s like watching Buddy Rich challenge himself to a drum battle, and the fact that there’s two of them empowers both to throw in sick fills and let the other guy carry the rhythm for a second. Plus, we got to see the live premiere of “Truth,” a piece Washington composed for the Whitney available on his forthcoming EP Harmony of Difference. This EP is the first recording Washington’s released since The Epic, and you should absolutely be excited.
But I want to get back to that excited middle-aged lady I mentioned up top. She was absolutely rocking the entire show – because, really, that’s the only reasonable reaction to a Kamasi Washington performance – and leapt to her feet to applaud at the end. During the intermission, her daughter ran off to buy some snacks, but this lady just kept on effervescing about the show she’d just seen, telling everyone who’d listen about how it was like the time she saw Idris Muhammed and Alice Coltrane and on and on. And, to reiterate, she was one hundred percent right.
If an image below is pixelated, please click through the “view full size” link for a better view.