Kamasi Washington reaches for the stars on ‘Harmony of Difference’
Alvaro del Campo | Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Kamasi Washington’s “Harmony of Difference” EP is an ambitious journey through a number of broad concepts related to human nature. Track titles like “Humility” and “Perspective” give the project a grandiose framework that its experimental jazz attempts to encapsulate. Washington’s method for conveying these different concepts largely involves variations in instrumentation and rhythmic composition. The rhythm section adapts throughout the EP to complement Washington’s expressive saxophone lines, which are the thread connecting each consecutive track. “Harmony of Difference” is another solid project from Washington, with influences ranging from funk to samba. But while the concept is ambitious, its execution is at times flawed.
“Desire,” the opening track on “Harmony of Difference,” introduces the EP’s main theme with Washington’s saxophone. Throughout the track, Washington maintains the main saxophone line’s tension by not hitting the high note that would seem to be the line’s natural progression. “Desire” begins with a short bass solo with vibrant piano flourishes before Washington introduces the drums in a smooth transition to the main theme. As Washington riffs on the main lick, the rhythm section behind him builds a lounge-like ambiance, with smooth keys and groovy drums creating plenty of space for the saxophone and piano to trade solos until the track ends with the conclusive repetition of the refrain. Overall, “Desire” doesn’t really go anywhere past what the instrumentation outlines in the first minute, but the tension throughout the track is a good representation of the tension that inevitably comes with desire.
Things start to speed up with “Humility,” the EP’s second song. As the drums play an uptempo swing groove, layered saxes riff over the piano until the piano itself breaks into a virtuosic solo. After the piano solo, the winds take turn soloing as the drums rise in intensity and the bass walks through the chords. It’s difficult to decipher how the music relates to the track titles throughout the EP, but the problem is especially evident here. Stylistically, “Humility” is not too different from the tracks before and after it, lending the EP its progressive nature as it morphs almost unnoticeably but surely into more Latin-driven rhythms and structures.
As organs enter the instrumentation in “Knowledge” and “Perspective,” Washington begins to draw from more contemporary influences like funk and soul music. “Perspective” especially shows these influences, with the guitar using more effects and the bass line becoming more groove-centric. Washington’s saxophone is a highlight throughout the EP, but it really shines on this track, with a jammy solo that rides the instrumental in a catchy yet novel way.
The standout track in “Harmony of Difference” is “Integrity,” a samba that feels like a drive through the South American countryside. The drum groove and rhythm section creates a pocket for soloists, who are used to maximum effect with solos that say a lot in few “words,” relying more on feel than technical prowess. “Truth,” the closing track, is a 13-minute odyssey through the EP’s major musical themes, but it doesn’t do anything new, instead acting as an extended bookend to the project as a whole.
The biggest problems with “Harmony of Difference” have more to do with the concept of the project than with the music. Musically, the album is a solid entry into Washington’s repertoire of experimental jazz, with exceptional musicianship on display in every facet, from drums to winds. However, except for the biggest music nerds out there, the concept of the EP is not communicated very clearly in the music itself, and this can make the titles of each track feel relatively meaningless. This is perhaps the opposite of what Washington intended, and that’s why it’s the most apparent flaw. Aside from that gripe, however, “Harmony of Difference” is an enjoyable exploration of the limits of saxophone-driven jazz, and worth a listen for any fan of Washington’s past work or jazz in general.
Artist: Kamasi Washington
Album: “Harmony of Difference”
Label: Young Turks
Favorite Track: “Integrity,” “Perspective”
If you like: Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Terrace Martin
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5