Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Kamasi Washington – Truth

Quite possibly one of the longest songs we’ve ever covered here…


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Tim de Reuse: High-energy, slow-burning, uber-sentimental excess. And I love excess! So why don’t I feel a hundred percent on board with this? Maybe it’s something to do with the straightforwardness of the way it unfolds; there’s something unfortunately predictable about the A-B-A structure (build up main theme -> cool sax part -> build up main theme again) and the way it occasionally suggests at something discordant and chaotic but always backs off before going through with it wholeheartedly. This isn’t to say that what’s here is trivial or boring, but if you’re going to fit all this musical talent in a room and get them to play their hearts out then you have a lot of space to move in more adventurous directions — and for a tune of this length, you have a lot of opportunities to fit it in, too.
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Ryo Miyauchi: Humble and fleeting as it may sound upon first impression, that quiet sigh of a piano riff soon traces itself around the new voices you meet during the song’s 14-minute excursion. And you meet a quite a bit: while the chorus sounds more like an afterthought, the ensemble of horns replies back a wonderful riff. Even if it gives the stage to its more dramatic counterparts, I still hear the piano as the root of where all this came from. It makes looking back at how much “Truth” has changed throughout its expanse a memorable experience as much as the ride itself.
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Will Adams: The addition of the choirs is excessive, the slow-build formula is familiar, but the payoff of the midsection’s dazzling sax solo makes it worth the wait.
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Maxwell Cavaseno: Pharaoh Sanders style meanderings for millennials. What truly separates the Brainfeeder/Stones Throw jazz posse of Karriem Riggins, Thundercat, Washington and others from anyone currently signed to Blue Note in 2017 beyond marketing, age, and knowing it’s better to be “woke” than “hip?” Certainly it’s unfair to use the canon as a meter in any genre, and there’s certainly no less musicality but… not for nothing, when Courtney Pine did the whole “let’s go back to Coltrane” vibe almost years ago, he as well felt more desire to embrace the now for all its brilliance in musical possibility, and didn’t get caught in that nostalgia trap (unlike y’know, the dreaded Wynton). The past is something to remember, but we need not return to strip mine it just to re-emphasize the same lessons.
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Joshua Copperman: I’ve often joked with fellow music lovers that extended opuses like these, especially off The Epic, give me “jazz overload,” first because I wind up genuinely overstimulated and stressed from listening, and second because it’s intended to have that effect anyway. These sorts of songs feature hysterical choirs, psychedelic synths, ornate strings, horns, etc. — all seemingly unnecessary elements that leave me feeling left out rather than further absorbed. “Truth” is much easier on the ears than any other Epic songs I’ve heard for much of its runtime, shifting back and forth between two chords and incorporating a beautiful, cinematic melody into grandiose crescendos. Even the solos pull me in with their warmth as opposed to pushing me away with narcissistic technical prowess. Still, by the time “Truth” reaches its final climax, it does become exhausting, especially when those choirs return once again at the 12-minute mark. Yet, Cameron Graves’ graceful piano and Ronald Bruner Jr/Tony Austin’s precise drums and percussion ultimately ground the song, so even when the inevitable overload occurs, there is something to cling to in the chaos.
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Thomas Inskeep: It took me a while to get into Washington’s 2015 triple-album opus The Epic, possibly because it just took a damned long time to get through it — it is an epic. But once I did, I’ve kept going back, and back, and back, because it’s so remarkably rich and layered and full of life and joie de vivre and musicality and musicology, to use Prince’s term. On one hand Washington’s music is very much in the tradition of ’70s jazz fusion — there’s a lot going on in there, a lot of ingredients, a lot of ideas — but on the other, it’s also very Coltrane-esque in its, at times, straightaheadness. The instrumentation is very standard: there’s no guitar, for example. There is guitar on “Truth,” however, one of six pieces in a suite that Washington has done for this year’s Whitney Biennial, but this is no hard left turn; “Truth” is very much of a piece with The Epic. There’s strings, there’s a choir — Washington loves his choirs — and it all comes together and works in such a stunning way. Part of that is due to his strength as a composer. He’s also self-produced, and I assume self-arranged. And none of this is even to mention what a strong saxophonist he is! I appreciate immensely his ability to step out of the way and let his songs breathe, without feeling the need to constantly be the star of the show. In so doing, his star shines all the more brightly, because he’s not “just” an instrumentalist; Washington is truly the whole package. On a track (it feels so odd to call this a “single”) like “Truth,” it all comes home. At its best, Kamasi Washington’s music makes you feel, and “Truth” gives me that. This sweeping, soaring composition will inevitably be one of the benchmarks of 2017. Give the man a MacArthur Grant already, because this is what genius sounds like.
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