Concert Review: KAMASI WASHINGTON - Auckland - 10th October 2019

Kamasi Washington| Photo Chris Zwagdyk

Kamasi Washington| Photo Chris Zwagdyk


By Georgia Bartlett

Artist: Kamasi Washington

Date: Thursday 10th October 2019

Venue: Powerstation, Auckland, NZ

Jazz is in revolution. We are in a moment of musical history where the pillars of the movement, forged and fostered by African-American slaves in New Orleans, USA, are being torn down and rebuilt from the soil up.

By the mid 1800’s, the Atlantic slave trade brought nearly half a million Africans to North America, bringing strong musical traditions with them. Through sound they eluded to their lands, unattainable, and to the unimaginable injustice forced upon them.

To hark back to slavery may seem like a vast leap from the apparent equality we imagine today, however, it is of no dispute that the African American journey in 21st Century America faces a not too dissimilar realm of injustice to their enslaved ancestors, simply in a different key.

There is no man better able to better express this, to personify the evolution of jazz music, its tangible past and eccentric renaissance, than the legendary Kamasi Washington.

Kamasi’s freshman LP, The Epic, placed his moody and standalone compositions firmly on the altar of jazz acclaim, solidifying himself as a leader in the modern jazz movement in his own right. Kamasi polished his craft through session collaborations with a variety of influential artists, including Kenrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, before collaborating with John Legend, Run the Jewels and Ibeyi, and determining that his own force could not be shelved any longer.

A West Coast, tenor saxophone wielding conjurer, Kamasi Washington and his celestial band graced the stage at Auckland’s Powerstation last night, returning for their second visit to New Zealand. Playing an expansive range of tunes from his last three LP’s, Harmony of Difference (2017), The Choice (2018) and Heaven and Earth (2018), Kamasi and his band wove a journey of truth, hope and power for the Thursday night crowd. Each member as infinite as the last, the displays of mastery and comradery between the ensemble’s members were tangible.

When 6 jazz pharaohs grace a single stage, it seems the only path to greatness is surrender, which is exactly what was presented tonight. Delicate demonstrations of technical jazz craft and expertise were sprinkled with experimental, playful trills and numbers illustrating the bands imaginative inability to stay within the lines.

Patrice Quinn, a visionary vocal shaman, enflamed the crowd into ecstasy. Her raw and honest declarations in Fists of Fury stating, “Our time as victims is over. We will no longer ask for justice. Instead we will take our retribution,” demanded soul-serving presence from the audience.

Miles Mosley, Kamasi’s acoustic double bass player, served technical brilliance, weaving blues and heavy rock inspired solos in between Kamasi’s spiritual tenor saxophone numbers. The Black Power beret resting atop Mosley’s head signalled to the audience the troubled and political roots of jazz, and the battle left to be won. Ronald Bruner, Jr., a long-time friend of Kamasi, and another drummer, treated the audience to a drum battle half way through the set, a rare spectacle and a firm example of the ensemble’s fiery experimentation. Funk, soul, hip hop break beats, blues and heavy metal were given the spotlight, and no genre was left unexplored by this collective.

The band’s seminal number, Truth, from 2017’s Harmony of Difference, found each member playing their own melancholic, meandering melodies and hooks, invoking a fluid musical celebration of the rich tapestry of human history and affairs, with Kamasi reminding the audience of Truth, Light and Humanity above all else.

Kamasi Washington and his band finished with Fists of Fury, a rousing call to arms, and an explosive composition, announcing defiantly to the audience, the poetically political past, present, and future of jazz.