BEST OF 2015: 18. Kamasi Washington ‘The Epic’

Listening to Gilles Peterson’s show on BBC 6 Music is always a risky business, as far as my not inconsiderable penchant for purchasing records goes. Over the years, he has prompted all sorts of things to enter my collection, from an early play of the full length re-edit of Elton John’s ‘Are You Ready For Love’, past Amy Winehouse’s stunning ‘Take The Box’ and more recently Finish folk Kaveri Special’s self-titled folk-pop splendour, to name but three from a list of dozens and dozens.


The Epic’ is another such example and, as with all the others, I have no regrets. An almost three hour long, triple album built around seventeen songs excerpted from forty-five of Washington’s compositions he contributed to a month long session featuring ten of the Jazz world’s most promising talents, it can feel too big to get a proper handle on it. Having honed their sound and ploughed through hours upon hours of each other’s material, most participants are now working on their respective records upon which they will all guest from their share of those recordings. ‘The Epic’ comes first and the bar is set almost unsurpassably high.

Taking its cues from the more chaotic, pulsing electric era of Miles and the gorgeous intersection of jazz, funk and soul, this set is hard to digest in one sitting but quite the trip if you do. I’m loathe to single out individual tracks as the gear changes across the three discs keep things lively. The euphoric impact of a twenty-piece choir contrasts with free-jazz intensity and wall of sound release. It can be a challenging listen but may, oddly enough, be a way into jazz for the uninitiated. Its stylistic whirlwind is invigorating and infectious and it demands repeat plays, at least partly just to map the landscape.

Washington’s role in Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ has been widely discussed elsewhere, but he’s even better given free reign to do as he pleases. The addition of a thirty-two piece orchestra performing a score he wrote to add to those original recordings ensures that it’s not just epic in length. ‘Re Run Home’ and ‘Change Of The Guard’ are two pieces which openly nod to Washington’s influences, but in gloriously confident and forgiveable fashion. An energetic, ambitious and utterly unabashed attempt to shake up the order of things, ‘The Epic’ is an enjoyably pig-headed triumph. It takes confidence to assert that you need to release this much material in one go, but it needs true brilliance to pull it off.

If you’re not sold yet, you never will be but I have one simple instruction for you. Just listen.

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