6. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)
It’s easy for me to understand the annoyance hardcore jazz fans felt when music publications and casual jazz listeners – dare I say, “tourists” – gravitated en masse toward the heavily-hyped new album by Kamasi Washington. I totally get it. When I’m in public and hear someone describe Avenged Sevenfold as “really hardcore metal”, and in fact I did hear that very phrase, my inner Scene Policeman is triggered and my eyes nearly roll right out of my head. Scene tourists can be so annoying to scene purists, but it’s extremely important to remember that all music is for everybody. Nothing is exclusive. Except for racist black metal. That’s exclusively for morons. It took a long time for me to relax the elitist feelings, to not reply, “BUT DID YOU SEE THEM IN 1986” every time someone mentions how great Metallica was back in September. The bottom line is, there’s nothing wrong with genre music having one or two “consensus” albums per year that casual audiences gravitate towards, and this past June, Kamasi Washington was definitely THE jazz story with the release of the monstrous, sprawling, and transcendent triple album Heaven and Earth. For me personally, the album’s arrival was half of a really cool convergence, as it was released just a couple days before Washington played a sensational headlining set at the local jazz festival. The stars had aligned, if you will. Seeing and hearing Washington and his ensemble play the new tracks (namely “Fists of Fury”, “Street Fighter Mas”, and “Will You Sing”) with even more improvisation balancing out the intricate arrangements was a revelation, and it helped the rest of the almost three-hour album settle in. There’s so much to take in, so many signposts to take notice of: Miles Davis looms very large (from fusion to the subversion of pop music), as does Afrobeat, soundtracks of kung fu movies and videogames, hip hop, funk, soul. If a jazz “expert” can’t admire Washington’s skill as arranger, soloist, and visionary, then there’s something dreadfully wrong with them. But screw the scene police. I can’t think of a better contemporary album for jazz neophytes to get into. Good music is for everyone, and it’s amazing that a record this ambitious captured the imaginations of so many.