It feels like Kamasi Washington has come from nowhere. Having burst onto the scene in 2015 with his rapturously received debut The Epic, he’s back again with Harmony of Difference. However, despite his recent emergence as a solo artist, Washington has been quietly working behind the scenes for years. A saxophonist by trade, he first began seriously playing with fellow students at high school, before going on to work with artists as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Nas, Lauryn Hill and Flying Lotus. Although Washington’s work is at the cutting edge of 21st century jazz, he has clearly been pursuing mastery of his art with the monk-like diligence and discipline that has become synonymous with great jazz musicians of old.
Harmony of Difference feels like a change in approach from Washington when compared to The Epic. It’s a short, sweet six-track EP, and comes in at just over half an hour, whereas the ‘The Epic’ is indeed epic: a 17 track behemoth, split across three discs, representing almost three hours of experimental jazz. Harmony of Difference benefits from being comparably sparse. Musical ideas are delivered simply and clearly, and aren’t convoluted by any of the more hit-and-miss elements of The Epic. The shorter length of the tracks themselves also makes for more enjoyable listening, as they’ve been condensed and crystallised into their purest form. ‘Desire’ is a wonderfully easy-going opener, the erratic drums tumbling around the soothing saxophone, while simple piano chords add texture. It’s simple, soulful and a joy to listen to. ‘Humility’ draws on Washington’s experience in big bands: with virtuoso solos, big crashing brass sections and an electric pace, it feels like the antithesis to ‘Desire’. As the album progresses, it grows ever more expansive. Bombastic, staccato double bass on ‘Perspective’ and fast Latin rhythms on ‘Integrity’ are unexpected delights. This is a confident, daring album that draws on multiple influences and blends them seamlessly, with sufficient depth to create a narrative throughout without being long-winded or intimidating. For anyone unconvinced by jazz or unimpressed by the modern variety, have a listen to this before you make up your mind.
IMAGE: Liam Sutcliffe, Baxter PR