Heaven and Earth
Jazz is such a varied genre that to find something truly accessible but still shocking and new is a wonder. For his sophomore release, Kamasi Washington goes above and beyond in his compositions while occasionally sticking too close to jazz mainstays. Though it plays to traditional concepts, the places that Washington takes the music is truly awe-inspiring.
The dramatic grandeur that opens Earth on “Fists Of Fury” is intense and immediately gripping as Washington’s dense choral and string arrangements set the album in motion. Each voice within the song has its own colour to give its own meaning to the song, and the flourish-heavy playing takes this even further. All things considered, the percussion section is really one of the standouts of the track as they seamlessly hold the song together while going absolutely off the rails time and time again with something like the sax. Even the powerhouse wails in the song’s final moments will blow you away.
Pianos and bass lead on “Can You Hear Him” as the brass leads instead of vocals and the drums are more of a character than just a rhythmic centre. Each chorus bursts with life and a frantic energy that feels angelic and overpowering all at the same time. Little lo-fi synth sounds provide a welcome sonic shift in the album that would normally be too foreign for most bands to use. As the pace hits almost impossible speeds the band’s subdued take is a fun counterpoint to what you’d expect as things pick up.
“Hubtones” takes a more direct melodic approach as every member of the band is creating a massive chord around the piano. As the song settles into its groove however there’s an airy quality that finds more minute and subtle effects creating the character of the song in the background as things get more and more mysterious. Though it’s not quite as in-your-face with its major themes, the solos that close out the song are some of the most exceptional across the whole album.
While the whole band settles into relaxing grooves on “Connections” the laid-back tones just make the song’s bigger moments all the more dramatic. Every little break for a member to get the spotlight feels wonderfully warm and intriguing, and shakes things up from the rest of the otherwise busy album. The rustling percussion moments also fill the song with a sonic wonder that comes out of nowhere throughout the track.
The sunny sounds of “Tiffakonkae” provide a much warmer sound than much of the album while also feeling bizarrely simple by comparison. Though it still has a brilliant colour to its brass, it may feel a little bland in the overall scheme of the record at times. While it’s not quite as boundary-pushing as Washington’s usual jazz exploration, the final moments show a much more unhinged writing style.
After this however, “The Invincible Youth” is a hard 180 as its brash and cacophonous intro hits like you the entire band is running right at you. Then with a creepy piano crawl the whole band moves into deep but occasionally unsettling grooves, as the song hits its stride. Throughout its notably more aggressive jazz, Washington and co. alternate between their usual chipper style and a more anxiety-ridden sound to make something wild and consistently unpredictable.
As happy vocals close the record out on “Testify” the sense of magic that Washington is able to bring back in any chorus hits hard and powerfully. Even something as simple as a little bell ring really shines in this track thanks to a strong mix and great playing that can highlight even the smallest parts.
Words by Owen Maxwell