In a time when even the smallest difference seems to cause tension and divide humans, Kamasi Washington has created an instrumental jazz album that offers hope and inspires the listener to hear harmony within difference.
Washington is an American jazz saxophonist from L.A. His talents have been mostly heard as an instrumentalist on Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly, but critics and fans are realizing his talents as a composer, bandleader, and performer. He creates new jazz tunes that are accessible to the average music fan while intriguing the serious jazz listener; he respects typical jazz structures but finds creative ways to present them.
While his debut album featured almost three hours of music with many tunes over 10 minutes in length, his latest release, Harmony of Difference, is much subtler and more succinct. Each song sports a title of a sought-after human experience or characteristic and is a more consumable three to four minutes in length.
The first song, “Desire,” starts slowly with the bass laying down a simple foundational groove. Washington explores the quiet seductiveness of desire, while desire is usually presented as passionate, brash, and bold. “Desire” features two exquisite solos—Washington himself plays one on saxophone, then he steps aside for an inspired keyboard solo.
The second, third, and fifth songs are more traditional jazz tunes. “Humility” includes a repeated main melody followed by several solos over the chorus. “Knowledge” is a ballad that still houses a unique energy coming from the drums. It also includes a trombone solo that stands out for its virtuosity. “Integrity” includes hints of Latin influences, especially through percussion.
The fourth song, “Perspective,” takes the listener on a unique journey. It begins by immersing the listener with rhythmless sound, inducing a feeling of being under water, before a smooth jazz groove kicks in with a laid-back melody. During the middle solo, the song builds to a frenetic pace, visiting several different key signatures before landing back at the original melody and slowing back down to the original relaxed groove.
The final track on the album is “Truth,” which at 13 minutes in length, seems out of place on this album and more suited to Washington’s first album. However, as you listen, sense of time is lost. Truth also includes the first introduction to a vocal sound and creates a climatic “aha” moment on the album, followed by a tempo increase and several solos to end.
Through Harmony of Difference, Kamasi Washington asks listeners to take a more balanced approach to differences. He embodies the character traits he highlights, inspiring listeners to consider being better humans as well. And he does all of this without a word, speaking only through his music. (Young Turks)