Written By: Andrew Sedo
Originality: (4.0 / 5) Vocals/Flow: (4.5 / 5) Production: (4.5 / 5) Average: (4.3 / 5)
Almost every review of Kamasi Washington’s previous effort, 2015’s extremely aptly titled, The Epic, reads as a reverse obituary. Critics hailed the return of the pure jazz spirit from the depths of it’s commercialized smoothed purgatory. To be fair, Washington does carry the aura of a messianic figure. Everything about him oozes an inviting other-worldliness. His traditional African garb is often wildly colorful, yet strikingly humble. His signature wooden cane is both a regal attention grabber, and sign of his connection to the earth.
To complicate matters further, Washington came into the public consciousness at large for his efforts on Kendrick Lamar’s masterwork To Pimp A Butterfly. It was Lamar who many credit with bringing musicality back to the forefront of a genre wrought with maligned stereotypes about its participants. It was Washington and his crew who brought this expertise to the now transcendent Lamar. It was this exposure which has led to an increased interest in a genre recently thought to be decaying if not already deceased. From these chickens of circumstance arises his latest, and much more manageable egg, Harmony of Difference. As a six song EP totaling a mere 30 minutes, it serves as a stark contrast to the over 3-hour marauding Epic. As a saxophonist, Washington is more than capable. Comparisons to great experimental tenors, are unfair, but not unwarranted. Washington is a complete composer and Harmony of Difference is his ode to the hypocrisy in all of us.
Opener “Desire” is meant to show Washington’s dedication to the craft, as it’s partner “Humility” cedes the floor to pianist Cameron Grave’s sprawling fingers, and eventually sees Washington expand on an explosively sharp, albeit short, solo. If given the titles and asked to place them on the correct track, it would be hard not to arrive at the inverse conclusion. Furthermore, “Knowledge” is a display of swelling skill and confidence, and follow-up “Perspective” uses a funky bass-driven groove to stay within the lines whilst continuing to deliver the unexpected. The over the top jungle-esque rhythms of “Integrity” make light of Jazz’ implied seriousness. 14 minute finisher “Truth”, combines the seminal aspects of every track into a glorious conglomeration of everything that makes Washington soar, and the influences that keep him grounded.
Harmony of Difference requires no explanation. It’s all right in front of you. It’s a commentary on the social structures of this country and around the world. Either you celebrate diversity, recognize the universality of hypocrisy, and realize it is these contradictions that make us all human. Or you don’t.