Review: Kamasi Washington constructs unifying jazz vision on ‘Harmony of Difference’

Story by Hayden Goodridge / Contributing Writer

Kamasi Washington stands as one of the leading voices in today’s jazz culture. Having collaborated with prominent names in hip-hop like Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, the West Coast tenor saxophonist and composer surprised the music world with the 2015 release of his critically acclaimed, ambitiously long jazz fusion project aptly named “The Epic.” With such achievements under his belt, Washington now focuses his attention on his latest release, “Harmony of Difference.”

Spanning a concise 31-minute runtime, “Harmony of Difference” presents itself as a clear departure from Washington’s past projects. Comprised of five distinct tracks, the songs blend with one another to form the final epic piece, “Truth.”

The majority of tracks lay out warm, flowing soundscapes in which Washington layers whimsical horn-fueled melodies that carry each sketch. Due to the shorter length of the songs, the listener is provided with immediately impactful grooves and refrains that lay the foundation for compact solos from a variety of the band’s personnel, including keyboard, trombone and trumpet.

The album’s opening track, “Desire,” carries the listener through a soothing, laid-back vista led by Washington’s sultry tenor sax refrains. The track flows seamlessly into “Humility,” which turns up the energy with a bold fanfare of a chorus over a turbulent rhythm. The solos on this sketch are the album’s most forceful, complete with chaotic, blasting trumpet phrases and wailing saxophone reminiscent of John Coltrane’s ambitious playing style. “Perspective” opens with a free-flowing prelude that leads to a Caribbean-flared groove to accompany Washington’s radiant hook.

The flowing collection of these succinct songs carries “Harmony” to its final 13-minute epic of “Truth.” The track begins with an introspective piano rhythm pulled from the first song, “Desire.” The grand orchestral climax ends with sweeping strings and a soulful choir.

“You hear these pieces and like them and enjoy them as individuals, but then they come together,” Washington said in a recent interview with Wetransfer Studios. “The sixth piece is a shared experience. I hope that the metaphor works, and it makes people think about what that reality is.”

Washington’s project focuses on reality — the current struggle as Americans attempt to reconcile different cultures and backgrounds into a shared experience of glorious magnitude. “Harmony of Difference” allows listeners to actively meditate on the short sketches and understand the individual function of each in the overarching theme of unity that they produce.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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