Kamasi Washington is pretty much larger than life. Sure, bestowed in his trademark dashiki and striking mane, wielding an ornately decorated saxophone, he makes quite the impression of a man large in stature. He most certainly is. But it’s the old-soul-meets-new approaches that allowed him to mesmerize and captivate the packed Tower Theatre audience on this Saturday night. Minds were blown, joy was had, and memories made.
Washington is an LA native, attended Alexander Hamilton High School’s Academy of Music program, and later UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology, where he honed his skills alongside respected faculty staff, Kenny Burrell, Gerald Wilson and Billy Higgins. Washington released his debut major label album The Epic via Brainfeeder in 2015. Not content to just release a debut, or a mere sample of his musical visions, Washington’s debut was extravagance to behold. It was an album comprised of three volumes, and a running length of nearly 3 hours. It was bold, it was impactful, and it was regal. It was larger than life.
Washington’s blend of sound covers a lot of ground. There’s a foundation of classic vanguard jazz that provides the base for Washington to build upon with elements of Afro-Pop, soul, fusion, Latin rhythms, funk, hip-hop and more. Thus, packed with musical density, the compositions carry important messages and thematic urgency. Civil rights, societal division, cultural concerns and a non-denominational focus on spirituality and transcendence are all communicated in Washington’s powerful musical oracles of life, love and existence.
Playing his first performance in Oklahoma City, Washington seemed pleasantly surprised with the turnout as he took his spot center stage and his band began with “Street Fighter Mas” from 2018’s “Heaven and Earth.” Next, the ensemble paid their respects to the great McCoy Tyner who passed away at 81 the day previously, with an emphatic rendition of the virtuoso’s “Passion Dance” from Tyner’s 1967 masterpiece, “The Real McCoy.” The song seemed to bring a release of tension to the band, it’s leader and the audience. From there, Washington seemed to relax, loosen and and really allow a connection with the audience develop and evolve. The band followed their leader without hesitation, always bordering on those hidden boundaries of musical explorations. The band is as large as life as Washington himself. Comprised of long time friends and collaborators, including Ryan Porter (Trombone), Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin (Drums), Ben Williams (Bass), Masayuki “Yuki” Hirano (Keys, Moog) and finally, the magical vocals of Ms. Patrice Quinn. Together as a whole, they’re even more impactful and commanding. So much so, they’re more a force of nature to be reckoned with.
That was never more apparent than the highlight of the night for me, the impassioned “Truth” and the funky 70’s kung-fu vibes of the set closing, “Fists of Fury”. What a beautiful night. I’ve always been a bit envious of those individuals that saw so many of the jazz greats. Davis, Coltrane, Tyner, Monk, Mingus, and so many more. I saw Dizzy Gillespie once, and I feel fortunate for that. Kamasi Washington made a difference tonight. His music on this night, carried an air of importance. Decades later, there will be those that look back on it fondly, perhaps with a sense of awe. Even later, there will be those that wish they’d been able too. Even if they don’t quite know it yet, as history repeats.
Discover all things Kamasi Washington here: https://www.kamasiwashington.com/
Opening the evening was the funky Jeremy Thomas Quartet who definitely warmed up the crowd with a fabulous set that set the bar high for Washington’s band. I’ve always been drawn to the soulful tones of a Hammond B-3, and Thomas certainly knows his way around the iconic instrument. Backed by the impeccably talented, Willie Peterson on drums, Clayton Roffey on guitar and Mike Cameron on saxophone. as well as a special guest vocalist, that regrettably I can’t name. Thomas made the absolute best of his short set. The Oklahoma City native and his lighted sneakers initiated lift-off sequence in an impressive manner. I don’t expect my first time catching Jeremy Thomas Quartet will be my last. They inspired a bunch of smiles and happiness with their set. Just a magical night all around. Find out more about the Jeremy Thomas Quartet here: https://www.jeremythomasquartet.com/