I left early the last time I saw jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington in concert. It was at the same venue last year at the Powerstation in Auckland, NZ and Kamasi was just getting into his work when I retreated down to K Road to catch Outkast’s Big Boi who was playing on the same night. No disrespect to Big Boi but I made a terrible error of judgement, an error I was not going to make this time.
Playing to a sold-out Powerstation once again, Kamasi has been coming off a stellar few years, releasing three excellent projects and contributing to the rise in popularity of jazz again. This has especially been the case amongst young people who have been drawn to his style of expansive spiritual jazz.
The vast range of different people of all ages who packed out the venue was a testament to Kamasi’s ability to attract all types with his music and you could tell instantly through the buzz in the air that everyone was waiting with bated breath for this modern jazz great and his wonderful band.
With no supporting act to warm up the crowd, Kamasi and his stellar cast of supporting musicians who included Brandon Coleman on keys, Miles Mosley on bass, Ryan Porter on trombone, and Patrice Quinn on vocals, kicked things off with the space funk of Street Fighter Mas from his 2018 album Heaven and Earth.
Drummers Robert Miller and Ronald Bruner Jr. locked in from the first beat, while a Ryan Porter trombone solo immediately lifted the tempo as members of the audience stood in awe mesmerised at the sight of this world-class group of musicians.
Journey showcased the spiritual side of Kamasi’s repertoire and we got to hear Patricia Quinn’s vocals for the first time. She did not disappoint sounding as good as she does on the records and putting the crowd in a trance with her passionate vocal performance.
There were also some nice flourishes on the piano from Brandon Coleman before he took a scintillating solo admired by both band and audience.
Kamasi then bought out his father Rickey Washington whom he introduced as the man who taught him everything he knows. He provided soprano sax and flute on Abraham, a track which also included some amazing freestyle bass playing by Miles Mosley.
The soloing from each member of the band was one of the highlights of the evening and the mutual respect shown between band members was clear to see. When a player took a solo, all the other players turned and watched and at times members of the band seemed just as in awe of the talents on stage as the audience was. This might have been Kamasi’s show but he gave his band an equal chance to shine and shine they did.
It was then time for the highwater mark of the evening in the form of Kamasi’s 2017 magnum opus Truth. The fifteen-minute track was broken down into sections with the band improvising and playing around with different melodies and rhythms. At times I felt like I was being transported back to a Miles Davis show from the Bitches Brew era, with the jazz-funk coming out strong on this stunning new arrangement.
After a customary drum battle between Miller and Bruner Jr. that was thunderous and very loud, things were then taken down a notch with the ballad We Will Sing. This track featured more nimble keyboard playing from Coleman and a beautifully tender solo from Porter.
Finally, the show came to a climactic end with the energetic and storming Fists of Fury. Complete with an electrifying bass solo from Mosley that was thrillingly good (that man sure can play!) this version might have been slower than the album version but it was just as enchanting and all in all represented a fitting way to end a great night of jazz.
Kamasi Washington has now been to New Zealand twice in two years. He is currently experiencing the best years of his career so far and clearly the demand for him and his band is high which is why he keeps returning to our shores.
With a live show as good as this one and music of the quality he produces it is no surprise why people want to see him, many returning again and again. The man is a wizard, his band are magicians, and to be quite frank, jazz is well and truly back and as popular as ever, thanks in large to Washington and his troops.