This bombastic 172-minute, 3-CD debut by Kamasi Washington was highly praised upon its release as no less than the new centre of the earth, making it onto many end-of-year Best Of lists. Disappointingly it is not the future of jazz but I agree that here is an impressive achievement wherein the high points are truly awesome. It falls short of being mind-blowing but is intermittently spectacular. Washington’s playing is focused and muscular (think A Love Supreme-era Coltrane but less cosmic), the compositions and arrangements are far-reaching, the production is panoramic. He really is reaching for infinity and wants you to know all about it. He is let down very often by the soloing of other players that doesn’t stand up, and the several tunes with lead-vocals provided here by the sweet-voiced Patrice Quinn sound like they belong on another album, “Cherokee” in particular.
Many of the pieces are accompanied by immense strings and an impassioned choral backing which help unify the three discs, occasionally at the expense of immediacy because the choir is so obviously highly orchestrated, rehearsed and overdubbed it sounds alien to the groove being layed down, where really top-shelf jazz has a live aesthetic as its core. It’s a major distraction but adds to the overall maximalism that is undoubtedly the effect Kamasi Washington was going for. Personally I feel this all could have been condensed to a more concentrated, less earnest two-disc release and retained its sprawling epic quality. I would love to hear him in a quartet setting with equally visionary but sensitive musicians who understand the secrets of light and shade and how this can create a condensed, satisfying whole. Think A Love Supreme.