As the lights dimmed in Atlanta’s Buckhead Theater, James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” played overhead and members of Kamasi Washington’s band walked on stage and received a warm welcome from the audience.
Once Kamasi stepped on stage, we were all transfixed by his presence – immense, towering, powerful. The audience yelled and hollered and even I, being relatively new to his music, felt I was in the presence of a real demigod. In fact, Washington has been referred to as the “savior of jazz,” but he’s always been too humble to accept the accolade.
FlyLo and Thundercat have made a name for themselves as more electronic musicians, but Washington doesn’t feel the need to stray too far from traditional jazz. He’s emulated and expanded upon the music of his jazz heroes and proved that he can do it bigger and better than perhaps any other jazz musician at the moment.
I was blown away by the power and energy that Washington packed into his performance. I was expecting a relatively mellow night, but Washington and his band delivered super funky bass jams, an epic drum-off between his two drummers, and soaring vocals from his vocalist Patrice Quinn that got the entire theater dancing.
After a few songs, he introduced Quinn by saying “Patrice is one of the best singers I know. You can tell some people are good by the way they talk, but Patrice, she sounds amazing even when she’s cursing at you.”
After Washington introduced Quinn, she launched into the most powerful song of the set: “Malcolm’s Theme,” from Washington’s debut album, The Epic. The songs lyrics come directly from Ossie Davis’ eulogy for civil rights icon Malcolm X. The moving lyrics, paired with Quinn’s emotional, powerful, and beautiful delivery gave everyone goosebumps.
My favorite part of the set was when Washington’s stand-up bass player, Miles Mosley, played his incredible funk epic “Abraham.” I was blown away by Mosley’s ability to create such otherworldly and groovy sounds. Here is a link to a performance of Mosley’s playing “Abraham” that I suggest you all watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c73NCDr5ACo (skip to 3:30 if you’re limited for time).
After being mesmerized by Washington for almost two hours of free-jazz digressions and thoughtful, intricate pieces, I felt like I’d been to a different universe and back. Just like the legendary Pharaoh Sanders who I had the chance to see earlier this year, Washington’s music transcended all of us to another realm of experiencing. Washington confirmed that jazz can be as lively, engaging, and fascinating as any other genre, if not more so.