Kamasi Washington – Miss Understanding


What jazz has been missing in recent years is balls. It’s all gotten too safe. Musicians seem content to either recreate the old standards perfectly, without adding anything new, or they’ve gone so far off into abstract avant-garde territories that they’ve forgotten the songs and you need a music degree just to enter the room.

All this is changing. From a shack in Inglewood, South Central LA, a group of like-minded musicians have got together and created something other-worldly. Under the leadership of Kamasi Washington, they have created a monster of an album called The Epic, released on Brainfeeder. Containing 17 tracks and clocking in at 172 minutes, the album is separated into three sections. Volume 1 is called The Plan. Volume 2 is titled The Glorious Tale and the third and final volume is called The Historic Repetition. The whole piece fits in with a musical daydream about a warrior waiting to be defeated, thus passing the torch to the next generation. Not a bad concept, eh?

The first offering from this opus is 'Miss Understanding'. At just short of nine minutes long it sets the scene perfectly. Opening with a minute-long crescendo of horns, cymbals, choral vocals, drums and bass it says “Ladies and gentlemen the ride is about to begin. Please keep all limbs in the car for the duration. Please refrain from using flash photography,” before you are immediately transported away. When the main riff begins to kick in, we’re off and running. The bass throbs, the horns squeal at breakneck speed, the cymbals and drums are syncopated and the choir has a dreamlike quality about it. It is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ Birth of Cool, but played by kids who know how good they are and want to show off but never lose sight of the overall track.

What Washington has successfully done is gather around him the best and brightest players and put them through their musical paces, like Miles Davis and Sun Ra did before to see how good they really are. It's hard, fast and sounds nothing like what is going on at the moment. As Brainfeeder founder Flying Lotus said recently “Washington just plays the craziest shit, man. I mean, everything — the past, present, the future. It’s hard to find unique voices in this music” and Washington has definitely got a unique voice!

Given the caliber of 'Miss Understanding', The Epic is starting to live up to its name. I can’t remember an album I have been this excited about in recent years. When The Epic is finally released I can imagine giving up a whole day to try and learn its secrets. When that day is finished I know that The Epic will be anything but a miss understanding.

The Epic is out now via Brainfeeder.