Kamasi Washington channels a shared energy at Marathon Music Works


Photo by Hayden Goodridge / MTSU Sidelines

Kamasi Washington is one of the greatest forces in contemporary jazz music. In 2015, the saxophonist released a massive album titled “The Epic,” which spanned three hours and featured a personnel of over 30 musicians. This year, he released a more succinct, but no less powerful EP titled “Harmony of Difference,” which sought to convey a message of unity, as separate sketches from the work convened on its final climactic track, “Truth.”

Last Saturday, Washington’s glorious playing style and thoughtful directive were witnessed firsthand at Marathon Music Works in Nashville. The crowd that occupied the industrial-chic venue for the night gave testament to the musician’s rapid infiltration into popular culture. Instead of an audience of snobbish, middle-aged hipsters, the room was alive with the eager electricity of college youth as they waited in anticipation for their jazz icon to emerge.

After a grooving, laid-back set from neo-soul opener Moonchild, the stage was set for takeover by Washington and crew. The crowd seemed to simultaneously erupt as the collection of casually dressed musicians took the stage with the unconcerned manner of natural performers. Sharing the spotlight with Kamasi were Ryan Porter on trombone, Cameron Graves at the keyboard and Patrice Quinn on vocals. The rhythm section included two drummers, Ronald Bruner, Jr., and Robert Miller, as well as Joshua Crumbly on bass. As for the man himself, Washington entered wearing a long, flowing tunic and a stitched beanie, as if giving homage to the legendary Sun Ra. He moved with an air of cool concentration and occupied the stage with a larger-than-life poise that drew attention to every movement made.

Once the first piano chords were struck on the vigorous opening track, “Change of the Guard,” the air in the venue immediately changed from a placid assortment of people to a fanatic congregation in fervent astonishment of what can only be described as a musical sermon. The song’s refrain was played with such forceful energy that ears could overload from the pandemonium. With the inclusion of two synchronized drummers, the sheer rhythmic strength of the group was staggering, while Kamasi’s blaring saxophone held all else down with its presence.

As if the band wasn’t grandiose enough, Kamasi introduced his father, Rickey Washington, after the first song to chime in with a flavorful soprano sax. However, saxophone wasn’t the only instrument of expression during the set. Lengthy songs like “Re Run” featured a jaw-dropping double bass solo from Joshua Crumbly as the rest of the band stood offstage. When she wasn’t singing soaring melodies, Patrice Quinn watched intently over her bandmates and danced with carefree interpretive spirit alongside their emotive ambiance.

Apart from his hilariously exaggerated between-song stories of how he met his bandmates, Washington’s remarks on the meaning behind “Harmony of Difference” were the most memorable. Before playing “Truth,” Washington explained that the album was an attempt to highlight the beauty of diversity in American culture. To much applause, he concluded with what he described as the band’s principal adage for the tour: “Diversity is not something to be tolerated, its something to be celebrated.” And with that, the band launched into their final two songs of the night; “Truth” blended five assorted melodies into a wonderful conflation of harmony, and “The Rhythm Changes” provided a heartfelt conclusion to the journey of the night. The latter track featured a glassy-eyed Patrice Quinn bellowing the profound sentiment:

“Our minds, our bodies, our feelings / They change, they alter, they leave us / Somehow, no matter what happens / I’m here.”

The final lines of the lengthy, meandering composition came from the sole sax of Washington himself, as he held on to each vibrato-flared note with an ardent proclamation. As his last note shimmered away into the air, it was as if the two hours of authoritative jazz music I witnessed provided a more apparent affinity for not only Kamasi Washington and his band, but for the community of fans who came out to be astonished by living, breathing jazz music.

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

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