Kamasi Washington Live Review

Kamasi Washington

September 9th, 2015

Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL

Kamasi Washington performs live in the KCRW studio.
Credit: KCRW

As an extremely casual jazz fan, Kamasi Washington’s three hour epic aptly titled Epic is the first jazz record I’ve listened to non-stop in probably five years. For those unfamiliar, Kamasi Washington is an L.A. saxophonist with a laundry list of great recording credits, including work for Snoop Dogg, Flying Lotus, Ryan Adams, Gerard Wilson, Lauryn Hill, Chaka Khan, Broken Bells, and of course, stamping his fingerprints all over the album of the year, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Fellow LxLer Todd and I caught Kamasi Washington and his band – filled with musicians Kamasi has played with for over 20 years – at the Bottom Lounge, and it officially ruined the rest of the rock shows we go to this year.

I hadn’t previously been to the Bottom Lounge, but was impressed by the beer selection, atmosphere, and sound of the venue. Before the show, we met Kamasi’s keyboardist Brandon Coleman and trombonist Ryan Porter while hanging out at the bar. Both had some pretty awesome stories from their touring travels with Kamasi – whom they have known and played with since they were kids – and other acts including Alicia Keys and Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Al MacKay. Stories from their childhood and and travels, including a call to the Austrian president to get a band-mate out of jail in time for a gig, were pretty incredible and promising for the show to come.

Drummer Makaya McCraven served as the opener with his band, with extremely powerful but swift drumming. He plays sort of like a hip hop drummer forced to play jazz, a pretty unique style to experience live.

Kamasi then came on stage, fielding two drummers (Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner), a stand-up bassist (Miles Mosely), female vocalist (Patrice Quinn), trombonist (Ryan Porter), and keyboard and keytarist (Brandon Coleman). Kamasi’s father Rickey, who was running the merch table, also joined the band for about half the set, playing soprano sax and flute. The band’s life-long familiarity and friendship plays into the comfort and fluidity with which the band plays.

Kamasi opened with “Change of the Guard”, the Epic opener that perfectly captures the politically-charged America we currently live in. Kamasi’s style of jazz is fused with hip hop and funk, but definitely channels the spiritual and spacey sounds of John Coltrane. Other highlights included the soulful salute to his grandmother, “Henrietta Our Hero”, the smooth lounge sway of “The Rhythm Changes”, and the fluid “Final Thought”. While Kamasi certainly plays with incredible dexterity and power, it’s the golden tones he consistently strikes with his saxophone that really takes his playing to a new level.

Todd and I definitely learned the hard way when you are used to going to rock shows, the musicianship of a jazz show can certainly make everything else look like child’s play. Kamasi is a force that has not only infiltrated the hip hop and rock world, but will likely be delivering great jazz records for years to come.

P.S. You can learn more about Kamasi and watch him live on NPR’s Jazz Night in America.

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Kamasi Washington Live Review

Netflix Corner: Ken Burns’ Jazz Series

Jazz: The TV Mini-Series

Directed by Ken Burns

Ken Burns Jazz Series Review

I’ve heard people talk time and time again about Ken Burns documentaries, but I’m actually not sure I’d ever seen one. Burns is sort of PBS’s documentarian extraordinaire, as he has done documentary series on everything America including baseball, the Civil War, national parks, and much more. Burns is so patriotic in his work, I bet there is a 12-part series on apple pie coming soon. Describing jazz as the only true American art form, it makes total sense that Burns would cover it at some point. The series is actually 14 years old, so you may ask why we are covering it now. Well it seems like Netflix grants new life to all sorts of content (old documentaries, classic TV series, and even TED Talks), this nearly 20 hour documentary series is now available to watch in a click from your queue. Jazz is an extraordinary beginner’s to jazz and its importance in American history.
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Netflix Corner: Ken Burns’ Jazz Series

Andrew Bird: Fever Year Review

Andrew Bird: Fever Year

Directed by: Xan Aranda

Andrew Bird: Fever Year documentary review

One of the more prolific artists in recent years has been Andrew Bird, the Chicago singer/songwriter/violinist who has flood the music scene with almost obsessive touring and eight albums in the last decade. A week ago, my wife and I caught a director’s screening of Fever Year, a documentary about Bird. Although over a year after its debut, the film never was widely released and still remains unavailable on DVD per Bird’s request. But while only currently available to see through screenings, the film gives some very interesting snapshots into the life and ethic of this unique artist.
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Andrew Bird: Fever Year Review

LxListening: All That Jazz

Derby's, Jazz, smokey

For some, jazz music is merely a cacophony of nonsensical noise. To others, it is heaven by way of music. Not that I have ever felt the former, but the more I listen to jazz and make it my own, the closer I get to aligning myself with the latter. Jazz is ambiguous and spontaneous. Jazz can be incredibly happy, or it can be devastatingly depressing. It has the ability to take so many different forms, and sometimes many forms in a single song.  It doesn’t necessarily follow the usual structures or progressions. Sometimes it doesn’t follow any progressions. It doesn’t play by the rules in that sense. I especially love when jazz is fused into other genres of music, but for this list, I am going to stick with some of my favorites of the basics. One college spring break on a long, late night drive, Wes and I began a tradition of late night jazz sessions on road trips. As of recent, I’ve found myself doing it more and more often myself. Last Monday, I had a nice three-hour stretch of road in which I let some of my favorite jazz artists drive their airy, spastic, beautiful notes straight into my skull and enrich my soul. Here are some highlights from that jazz session.
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LxListening: All That Jazz

Flying Lotus Review: Until the Quiet Comes

Flying Lotus
Until the Quiet Comes

Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes, album cover art

If you missed our top ten list last week, we focused on our favorite descendants of musicians. Had we optioned all family members and not only on direct descendants, Flying Lotus would have neared the top of our list. The great-nephew of the late John and Alice Coltrane, Flying Lotus has seemed to have pulled heavily from his great aunt and uncles jazzy gene pool. Combining old styles of free form jazz with a new electronic sound may not be completely originally attributed to Flying Lotus, but he has certainly mastered and popularized it. One reason I love jazz is because of its ambiguity. It has so much room for imagination and interpretation. It doesn’t force you to think any one certain way, it allows you to feel and create your own use for the music. There are moments in this album that feel so tense and claustrophobic that it makes me feel so anxious I need a cigarette (and I don’t smoke), but by the next song I am relaxing on a beach with a Corona in hand. Seamlessly fusing an album of this nature together is an accomplishment all on its own. The fun that comes with it is just the icing on the cake.

Continue reading “Flying Lotus Review: Until the Quiet Comes”

Flying Lotus Review: Until the Quiet Comes

Fifty Licks: 50 Songs for 50 Years | 30-11

the rolling stones, the stones, rolling stones, 50 years, 50, 50 anniversary, 50th anniversary, hits, songs, album cover,

Picking right on up were we left off at #30, we give you our next-to-last selections for our Fifty Licks: 50 Years list. This portion seems to focus more on the country/delta blues stylings of The Stones. I’d like to say that this list was especially fun for us to put together, and it is always great to revisit these songs that serve as an inspiration to me, but also to many more modern musicians that may not even realize it themselves. So here we go, let us continue with our 30th-11th favorite tracks from one of our favorite all time bands:

Songs 50-31 | 30-11 |10-1

 

30. “Rip This Joint”
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Fifty Licks: 50 Songs for 50 Years | 30-11

The Nawlins Experience: A Musical Journey Down by the Bayou

Two/Thirds of Little by Listen (Todd and I) headed down to the land of jazz, gumbo, and downright debauchery for New Years this year, and one of the biggest highlights was the sounds heard around the city, both inside and out. If you have been to New Orleans, you know that every corner you turned, is filled with a new tune, from jazz to funk to even folk.

Continue reading “The Nawlins Experience: A Musical Journey Down by the Bayou”

The Nawlins Experience: A Musical Journey Down by the Bayou