Flow 2016: Kamasi Washington
We’re just a few weeks away from a new edition of Flow Festival and this means it’s time to get familiar with some of the groundbreaking, less-known artists on the bill. Every year, I miss a little bit more traditional sounds, some more rock, blues and folk, so for me Flow is an opportunity to keep my ears open and discover new sounds. Even though, I might not get to see my favourite artists, Flow is a very good opportunity to open my ears to new artists, many of them I haven’t heard before. Starting today and until it’s festival time, I’ll post about some of the bands that are engrossing my to-do list at Flow. Let’s start today with Californian jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
Last year, I did not pay enough attention to one of the most-acclaimed albums of 2015. Jazzpossu duly informed about Washington’s debut, The Epic, but I did not listened to it on time and ended up missing his gig in Helsinki last November. Shame on me, I know. At Flow, there will be a new opportunity to see Kamasi’s cosmic show and this time, I’ve done my homework. In fact, The Epic has been in heavy rotation on my stereo for the last weeks. And yes, all 2 hours and 54 minutes of it.
Kamasi had the balls of calling his big debut as a jazz bandleader, The Epic, and pose for the artwork in front of two planets. Surprisingly, that’s not an overstatement. With an overwhelming running time of nearly three hours, and many songs over the ten-minute mark, the album packs so much music it can be intimidating. It travels through different colours of jazz. There are echoes of John Coltrane and 70s fusion, but also grittier soul jazz and funk -you might expect Marvin Gaye to start singing at any moment. The underlying 20-people choir and orchestral arrangements that appear through the album connect the different pieces of music and strengthen the music with a touching spirituality. Precisely, it’s this spirituality, certain cosmic quality, what makes this album something very, very special, even though the music might not be entirely original or groundbreaking.
Kamasi Washington and his band are scheduled to play the Bright Balloon 360° Stage on Sunday 14 August. There cannot be a better stage for this music. The Epic offers such a tremendous pool of material to choose from, so obviously the gig can take any direction. The downside is that with just one hour to play, the show might feel way too short.
Despite of the genre and the running time, Kamasi Washington’s music feels very accessible. This, and the saxophonist connections to hip hop (he was part of the band in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly), guarantee the hype and a packed festival show. It will tough to get a good spot near the iconic rounded stage.