REVIEW: PROM 61 – Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington enters the stage at the Proms
Photo Credit BBC/ Mark Allan

Prom 61- Kamasi Washington
(Royal Albert Hall, 30 August, review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Kamasi Washington’s ethos combines opposing traits of formality and informality, convention and unconvention, rigour and free-flow. At the Royal Albert Hall, in the Late Night Prom slot, the LA-based saxophonist with his exhilarating band, The Next Step, the 27 piece TOP Gospel Choir and 30-plus string players from Birmingham’s CBSO under the baton of Jules Buckley, hotfoot from the Quincy Jones Prom, showed how dextrously he embraced those contradictory paths.

As he has said, “Jazz is like a telescope, and a lot of other music is like a microscope.” Drawing on his own inspirations, ranging from Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Garrett and Dolphy to Stravinsky and Indian classical music, he showed that jazz is also a kaleidoscope, busting boundaries, mixing the flow of seventies soul-jazz with the stature of the symphonic and the polyphony of left-field jazz-math blasts.

Kamasi Washington onstage at the Royal Albert Hall
Photo Credit BBC/ Mark Allan

He showcased half a dozen key pieces from his early career magnum opus, The Epic, including the un-broadcast encore, Re-Run, and premiered a new composition, The Space Traveller’s Lullaby, which Buckley had entreated him to write specially for the performers on the night, cross-hatching the pastoral with peppered, surging dynamics.

There was much enjoyment oozing from the assembled cast as the flow morphed to follow the shifting moods of the arrangements, which Washington has cited as being influenced by Charlie Parker’s simmering With Strings LP. The chorus and strings segued in and out of tandem with the jazz groupings up front to add a sense of the ecstatic sublime. Vocalist Patrice Quinn, an elegant, smiling presence, carried Henrietta Our Hero along on the crest of a wave to which Special Guest, Rickey Washington, Kamasi’s father – and session player with the likes of The Supremes and the Temptations – added lyrical flute recalling the expressive beauty of Roland Kirk’s I Talk With The Spirits. Playing soprano sax, too, he was the understated star of the night – after all, Kamasi stated that ‘he taught me everything I know!’

Kamasi Washington at the Royal Albert Hall
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

The twin drums of Ron Bruner and Tony Austin, behind the perspex sound booth on stage, added high-energy, dual drive momentum, while the soloing Miles Mosley cheekily moved the string bass into bowed, gutsy no-man’s land. Kamasi took on the challenge of the soulful power tenor sax flying with the breeze, complementing Ryan Porter’s mellow trombone and Brandon Coleman added the icing, with soaring virtuosity, on piano.

The choir sang no words, just conjured a mellifluous blend of backwashes, ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and swayed, just swayed, throughout The Rhythm Changes, and spontaneously applauded the blistering piano solo (one of many) by Brandon Coleman on The Magnificent Seven. A cellist looked on with a broad grin and a double bass player clapped during the encore as The Next Step got into their telepathically infectious groove. There was a lot of fun and mutual appreciation on board that night!

My only negative was the in-hall sound quality, which at times became muddy, losing some of the strings in the process – while at other times it was perfectly clear and sharp. Possibly mixed more for the radio audience – the broadcast sounds excellent – and put together for a live show an hour after the early evening Prom, it was perhaps a big ask to get it sounding perfect for the Prommers.

The band, choir orchestra at Prom 61
Photo Credit BBC/ Mark Allan

The Next Step:
Kamasi Washington — tenor saxophone
Rickey Washington – flute, soprano sax
Miles Mosley — acoustic bass
Ronald Bruner, Jr. — drums
Tony Austin — drums
Brandon Coleman — keyboards
Patrice Quinn — lead vocals
Ryan Porter — trombone

T.O.P. Gospel Choir
Strings of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Jules Buckley – conductor

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. Great concert very poorly mixed. Loved it on the night but enjoyed it more when listening back on the radio. Kamasi is incredibly talented. Crescendo anyone?

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