It could have been the lukewarm reception I got from some friends when I mentioned this show. Or maybe it was the $30 price tag. Whatever the reason, I did NOT expect to see a line wrapped around the building and down the stairs outside of Mr. Smalls Theater when I arrived at 7:05 last Monday night. Being somewhat of a cheapskate, I don’t like paying service fees when buying tickets and therefore I try to avoid them whenever possible. What that meant for me on this chilly night was standing in a line for 20 minutes so that I could buy a ticket at the door and go have a few beverages at another less expensive establishment. While I was mildly unhappy to have to wait in the line, it was SUPER cool to see people excited about jazz! Think about that, about a hundred people in a line outdoors in November to get into a JAZZ show. It was truly remarkable. I will say that the performance by saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his band were certainly worth the wait as well as the price tag.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t fall in love with Kamasi’s hugely successful 2015 release The Epic (Brainfeeder) or this year’s follow up Harmony of Difference (Young Turks), but I did appreciate them both. I listen to a good amount of mid to late 60’s era jazz and, although he’s certainly no novelty act, to me these records didn’t really offer anything drastically new or different. Maybe I need to revisit. But what WAS drastically new and different for me was being in a large room (capacity 800) packed full of people to see a jazz group in 2017. For that I was really excited and appreciative to be able to experience.
Washington’s octet offered a full variety of styles from swing to funk to R&B to 60’s-ish spiritual free jazz and everything in between. This variety is undoubtedly part of the reason for the popularity. None of this music felt too traditional or stuffy nor was it too intellectual, abstract or mathematical …things that tend to bog down some other current jazz acts IMO. The set included a mashup of the jazz standard “Cherokee” with Curtis Mayfield-esque funk rhythms. There was also a shredding key-tar solo and an explanation of why he needs, not one, but TWO “incredibly dope drummers”! His drummers (one of which was Ronald Bruner Jr., brother of bassist Thundercat) were REALLY good BTW. Overall, the vibe was great, the audience was attentive and diverse, and Washington even brought out his dad Rickey Washington who played soprano sax for rest of the show! I’m really happy that I chose to attend and to experience this band first hand. It truly was a beautiful night of music.