Kamasi Washington

I woke up early this morning despite going to the Saba show last night. After I got dressed, I had enough time to stop by my local coffee shop before work and have breakfast. Once I got my food, I put on my headphones, sat by the window and people-watched as I ate. I live by a university, so many, many people were walking by the window. As I watched them scurry about, and thought about my own workday, the music I was listening to inspired a metaphor for what I was watching.

I immediately thought of nature documentaries that focus on the ocean, and, specifically, the scenes that zoom in on a patch of water, allowing you to see the microscopic creatures zooming about. That’s how I imagined my fellow Austinites and I- as almost-invisible, little beings, running around and doing God knows what. I know, I know: very abstract, but it was also serene.

The aptly titled “Space Travelers Lullaby” by Kamasi Washington soundtracked my morning. As you can infer from the title, the vibe is dreamy, atmospheric, and expansive. Kamasi Washington is a jazz musician, and interestingly, he’s worked on some of hip-hop’s most critically acclaimed albums. For example, he has credits on To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN, and Run The Jewels 3.

As a solo artist, Kamasi has released five albums since 2005, with his breakout project, The Epic, released in 2015. Kamasi’s work is never slacking. This is seen in his intimidatingly long tracks. For example, the shortest song on The Epic is 6 minutes long, and the total album run time is nearly three hours. However, his compositions are worth the listen.

Make no mistake, Kamasi is a jazz musician. His songs have the free-flowing saxophone solos, wild horn blares, and winding melodies that jazz is known for. As an amateur jazz fan, I admit, sometimes it’s all too much, and jazz loses me. Kamasi seems to be aware of this, and he manages to rein in jazz, to give the free-flowing genre some composition, and create a jazz song that feels structured and digestible.

My favorite song by Kamasi is Henrietta Our Hero, a beautifully arranged song about a strong-in-spirit individual, and it surprisingly features a vocalist. I was amazed to learn that you can write lyrics to jazz, instead of jazz living as an instrumental-only genre. I believe Kamasi featuring a vocalist is the exception, and not the rule. Not to be outdone by lyricists, Kamasi himself is able to tell you stories through the music. Consider Leroy and Lanisha-  though there’s no one singing, you can still understand it’s about a love story that lasts through the ages.

Kamasi Washington wrote a song that inspired the perfect metaphor for my morning, my place in this world, and I believe something as multifaceted and intricate as that can only be inspired by similar forces, and Kamasi Washington wields his music with masterstrokes.

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