Review: Harmony of Difference EP – Kamasi Washington

Image result for harmony of difference

Kamasi’s really pushing the definition of “EP”, with this one.

Coming from a tradition of Non-Tradition and Rule Breaking, Kamasi Washington’s EP Harmony of Difference is one of my favorite new jazz records in recent memory; the other being Washington’s Opus Epicus the 3 hour odyssey “The Epic” released in 2015.

This record falls into what could be called the sub-genre of Jazz Innovation, which includes the hallowed ranks of Trane, Sanders, and Ayer as the free-jazz Holy Ghost. You’ve likely heard the jokes about these types of record: 20 minute jazz odyssey.

They follow the same series of beats: an introduction of theme via the Bass line, followed by some melodic vamping; sometimes there will be a few short tracks in which themes are explored in a bit more detail. Then, transcendence.

Some of my personal favorites are stuff like the immortal A Love Supreme by Monsieur John Coltrane, Karma by Pharaoh Sanders, Enlightenment by McCoy Tyner, and contrapuntally The All Seeing-Eye, and Spiritual Unity by Wayne Shorter and Albert Ayer.

This record has that same sense of bombastic abandon and push for innovation. It has those tasteful ethereal themes that connect us through the soundwave vibrations of the spiritual instant known as Om. Scattered throughout the 6 tracks, among the sultry bass lines; the shimmering keyboards; the funk grooves; and Washington’s classic playing, there is that sense of increase and tension. That almost sexual ecstasy that comes with communing with the divine from the sound of a reed and enamelled keys on gold.

There is the wonderfully cohesive compositions, at which Washington truly excels. His compositions have enriched everything from Flying Lotus to Kendrick Lamar, and he has a true ear for those classic anti-classic Jazzsterpieces. He has the soaring, and the falling. The moments of diffusion such as the song “perspective”. The arrangements match the tone of the songs subject matter. Desire establishes the theme, while the ensuing tracks veer and shuck and jive into their own thematic territory, culminating in a thirteen minute sublimation “Truth”.

It’s a joy to listen to, I tell you.

This record is not quite what I would call a game-changer, though. This is a record defined by its influences, almost to the point of being slavishly devoted. They’re good influences, and this piece works well as a self-contained suite with rich harmony and melodies. But it is part of a tradition. He doesn’t dramatically push the form. He doesn’t go balls out with his compositional choices. There is a sense of balanced, but it is weirdly dimmed, considering the tradition from which it comes

For every new flourish that is Washington’s own, there are melodies and compositions that feel eminently familiar. There is a sense that he has imbibed his forebears wholeheartedly. And while these compositions have character and flavor all their own, they have a recognizable source. I can’t escape that personally.

But, when I listened to this record for the first time, I was taking a walk on a sunny autumn day, with the leaves falling in the Boston Garden amongst the flowers and beauty. As “Truth” built upon all the previous themes like a modal voltron, I was taken by a moment of serenity; the sea of bodies falling around me in harmonious equidistance. The glass green pond with Swans swimming; the buskers. The taste of my coffee and the just right temperature of the air against the shimmering blue felt just right.

And when it’s that rich, I can’t help but fall into the Harmony life.

The Guard has Changed. Let’s see what Washington’s got next.

Review: The Desaturating Seven – Primus

Image result for the desaturating seven

We’re going down to the valley to suck the life out of rainbows, gonna have ourselves a time.

As long as I’ve been an openly weird individual, I have found something kindred in Primus; from their openly surreal lyrics that sound like Bertolt Brecht on meth watching Barney the Dinosaur and having an existential crisis; to their deep vein thrombosis varicose rhythm section, composed of the eternal slap-bass of Signor Claypool like some creepy uncle who your parents tell you to stay away from, and currently, Tim Alexander from the classic line-up. From the seas of cheese, to the morbid absurdism of Horny Tom-Cats and Muddy Murderers, I have always had a soft spot for the particular insanity of Les Claypool’s most famous outfit.

So it’s no great shock that I enjoy The Desaturating Seven, at, if nothing else, the minimum capacity for enjoyment. It has all the hallmarks of classic Primus: twisted melodic slap bass that marches alongside the guitar-as-rhythm low-key virtuosity of Larry Lalonde, marrying the drums in unholy matrimony while they explore the bizarre, the twisted and the immoral with a happy Wonka jaunt.

But, weirdly enough, the album was a bit of a shock. I say weird only because I wasn’t expecting to be shocked. I was expecting Primus to be Primus. But they got me with an album that is closer to a song, than an album. Which is weird, for a band predicated on Lynchian insanity.

This record is pure concept, based on a horrifyingly delightful children’s tale “The Rainbow Goblins”, the album chronicles the events of the story as the Goblins – who eat color – are on their way to a valley filled with color to consume. In the end, their greed gets them, and they die from eating too much. Classic Primus subject matter.

Poetic like a fart-joke.

But unlike a regular Primus record, which is 40-50 minute of riffs, bizarre vignettes and characters, and an exploration of the dark-side with teletubbies brightness, this record is a sustained exploration of one band of fucked up children’s story characters, and it’s only 34 minutes. It’s also not one metric fuckton of brick wall funk-rock.

Unlike their greatest records, this album has space in between the moments of bat-shit insanity, which are more muted than their previous highs. It’s a new experience.

And, initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I’ve been used to Blue-Collar Meth Heads, Icon worship to the Bad Lee Van Cleef, a weirdly high volume of references to fish. I was used to a continuous stream of inventively textured bass, and Claypool sounding like an Oompa Loompa on Coke.

And I got that, mostly. But I also got wide-open spaces of ambience. I got an uninspired LaLonde The solo on “The Dream” but it is the singularity of concept that took the most time to get used to.

One of Primus’ gifts if their ability to tell a story; but they’re better as flash fiction, than novels. They can paint these vivid pictures of the creepier unaware elements that hide in the shadows of children’s story. John the Fisherman, Tommy the Cat, Mud: all these stories are self-contained within their respective songs and have hallmarks of a sense of place and style.

But by focusing on one cast of characters, Primus becomes diffuse. The characters don’t have that eminent shock value like they used to; and this took time, but I actually finally enjoy it.

This is a Primus Meta-Song; a fact which acknowledges itself in the final track, looping around to the beginning with the same filtered and flanged acoustic riff that begins the album, even says “The Ends?”. Instead of having the dramatic impact of something like a Smosh Youtube video, or a Lydia Davis short story, they go into more detailed storytelling. Each song contributes to the whole, and reflects form as function.

Each song plays a part, and serves a role in the narrative. The spaces are wide to accommodate a more detailed story. It’s a children’s story, and it’s easy to follow. But from taken from this context, I find it a rich experience. I’m marching along with these gluttonous, only barely metaphors-for-real-life goblins while Claypool, Lalonde and Alexander tell a story, full of sonic and emotional peaks and valleys.

I like that. And it’s  not what I expected.

If you’re a Primus fan, check it out; if you’re not, find out what the people who wrote South Park is actually about.

As for me, I’m going to watch Teletubbies, and read a Pulp Novel.