I don’t know if I’d recommend it as a customary home listening practice, but one great way to accompany yourself into a journey through the new Kamasi Washington album is to pull the cover image into Photoshop and then just dance around the square with the eyedropper tool. Before you’re even through the apocalyptic rhumba of “Fists of Fury,” you’ll be sampling from a palate of dark electric blues, placid golds and bloody browns.
And as sure as your man here is walking on water, it’s no accident: Here is a record where timeless late night big city jazz radio (when’s the last time you checked in on your local station?) shares space with permanently-newfangled space jazz and foreboding death gospel. In my hands, it may be terrible word salad, but give it to the pros in the Washington organization and it’s the soul of a new machine.
The machine, of course, is jazz itself. Washington is perhaps the figurehead of what is a quickly amassing generation of jazz musicians riding in to the save the genre from itself, and not a moment to soon -- both for the people making it and for those of us who, I know it sounds crazy to the general population, need jazz in their lives. And throughout Kamasi’s brief but growing discography -- Heaven & Earth is a 5-LP whopper sophomore effort following up on the triple-LP debut The Epic, with a brilliant EP sandwiched in between -- the need is articulated in all of its contours, and guess what? Even within this admittedly ambitious-is-not-even-the-word-for-it style of recordmaking, none of it feels like overkill.
These things are albums the way Lord Of The Rings or Harry Potter are series of movies. Dumbledores and Snapes and shit lurk in these grooves, history meeting fantasy meeting the future, and guess what: Kamasi Washington is getting tired of these motherfucking Snapes on these motherfucking planes! In this way you get his mission: To reflect experience. All of it. The ugly, the elevated, the Bruce Lee jazz epic by Spaceman Jesus & His Band.
Think of it that way, and yeah, maybe the eyedropper is the best way in.