Photography: Glyn Akroyd / @GlynAkroyd

Kamasi Washington

Bam!Bam!Bam! @ Arts Club 30/6/17

I left my home, not knowing what to expect. I had immersed myself in The Epic and it blew my mind. It blew my mind in a way that rock, or most other genres of music, never will. It contains an element of outward and upward spirituality that generally isn’t available in other forms of sound, something that just might ‘take you there’ should you need to go. There is no external force driving your life and making decisions, other than yourself, but if there was, this is the sound and shape it would take. If you wanted to get closer to your God, this is the medium you might use.

For many years jazz has tried to reach out to a larger community. Record labels would marvel at what might happen if it was exposed to a larger ‘rock audience’, for the want of a better phrase. John Coltrane would have been one of the major stars of the American counter-culture, had he lived. He died on the morning of the Summer Of Love. Miles Davis, despite his record label’s valuable support during the late 60s and early 70s, was just too ‘out there’ to be taken to heart by the acid-fried hippy kids at the Fillmore. Neil Young and Crazy Horse is one thing, but an hour of improvised Bitches Brew was just off the scale.

The audience tonight is full of youngsters who wouldn’t look out of place at a Hooton Tennis Club gig. Hopefully they are the same youngsters at both shows. If that’s the case, music is certainly – and positively – moving in the right direction. If that gap has been bridged, then music has a future unlike any time in the last 60 years.

Washington takes to the stand with his seven-piece band, and within moments that horn is blowing into the heavens, a be-bop big band that sounds the size of Canada, frantically rearranging all the atoms in the room and reconfiguring them into a personal wall of profound audio, just for you. The sheer force is relentless: at every twist and turn the audience are peering around the room, just to check if everybody else is feeling how utterly life-affirming this music is. Don’t blink, don’t move. If you have to, just close your eyes and be carried away by this truly astonishing cacophony.

Jazz isn’t for everyone, I understand that. What Kamasi Washington has done in a very short space of time is to invoke the spirits of modern jazz into a wholly new, modernised modern jazz, taking it to a new and wide-eyed audience. The essence of the Charlie Mingus big band, and the dizzy heights of Sonny Rollins’ horn are all captured and reproduced in a beautiful contemporary form, highlighted by some of the best musicianship available to humans. And to do this in front of a young, eager and knowledgeable audience, familiar with every twist and turn, is no mean feat indeed.

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