Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper and 9th Wonder have formed a new supergroup under the name Dinner Party. The quartet have just released their self-titled debut album a few days ago.
As with his previous releases, Kamasi Washington finds interesting bandmates to collaborate with in his new albums. He is not an easy artist to pigeonhole, but his approach has gifted him a broad following. He has risen in visibility on his terms, and although well versed in the tradition, much of his fan-base falls outside of the mainstream Jazz audiences.
The word for this approach is hybridity, but it is not a new phenomenon. Hybridity and reinvention lie at the heart of Jazz. Purists need to be reminded from time to time that New Orleans Jazz is the ultimate form of hybridity.
Washington is a favourite at Indie Music festivals, but he also fits comfortably alongside seasoned Jazz heavyweights. Last year he and Terrace Martin appeared together in a benefit concert for Wayne Shorter (alongside John Patitucci, Danilo Perez and Brian Blade). Doing Shorter, and in that company, would be a big ask for anyone, but they nailed it. Now, he and Martin are paired-up for this project and joining them is Robert Glasper and 9th Wonder.
Sometimes Jazz needs a slap on the arse
Dinner Party has a very definite urban-radio vibe. The album leans heavily on Soul/R&B, and unlike some earlier projects, it owes less to jazz or hip hop. Given his trajectory to date, it is unsurprising that Washington teamed up with Glasper and Martin. I recall the fuss that the purists made when Glasper released Black Radio, an album with a similar groove. Glasper's response was sharp, ’Sometimes Jazz needs a slap on the arse’.
The release material featured a teaser-clip of the tune Freeze Tag. I watched and listened. There, hidden behind Phoelix’s silken vocals were hooks large enough to snag a submarine. One hearing and the tune was lodged in my head. It is a clever piece of writing with sneaky flashes of dissonance providing an unexpected and welcome contrast to an otherwise smoother vibe.
From My Heart and My Soul also features Phoelix vocals. This track has an unhurried late-night feel, an encompassing warmth. There is also a sense of reflection imparted and I think that the entire album is an invitation to reflect on our new realities.
COVID album releases often contain embedded messages and this album is no exception. It is a plea to our better angels and the respectful instrumental homage First Responders exemplifies that.
In recent months, a plethora of jagged melodies and angry lyrics arose as American artists lashed out in righteous anger. With the mishandling of the pandemic and the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the telling of truths became the imperative. This album arises out of that impulse, but it points us toward a new humanism, to love and respect.
The gentle soul-fused vibe won’t please every fan, but there are some nice instrumental tracks. The groove here is mesmerising and that is the album's strength. My default taste leans towards musicians who stretch out when improvising and to those who embrace freedom. While it is not for those listeners, it will do very well.
Lastly, here's something to share with New Zealand jazz fans... the popular LA-based expat Kiwi jazz pianist Mark de Clive-Lowe is also a collaborator of Kamasi Washington.
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Released: 10 Jul 2020