“She was the pillar of our family, even though she was only this tall,” proclaimed Kamasi Washington indicating a tiny stature with an outstretched palm, the other hand idly caressing the tenor saxophone which hung around his contrastingly prodigious frame. “She didn’t have a lot of money or a big house, but she understood one thing; it’s not what you have – it’s what you do.” This was the heartfelt introduction to ‘Henrietta Our Hero’, Kamasi’s tender and uplifting ode to his grandmother.
Familial love and respect is obviously important to the Californian jazz bandleader. It showed not only in the invitation of his father, a gifted woodwind player in his own right known for playing sessions with legends like Diana Ross and The Temptations, to guest on stage, but also in his assembling a group of musicians as tight-knit as most brothers and sisters.
There’s only so much of Kamasi’s acclaimed, almost three-hour solo debut album ‘The Epic’ that can be crammed into a single live set, but the bandleader was always humble and almost in awe of his fellow musician’s qualities. Double bassist Miles Mosley was given space to showcase his lightening-fast fingerwork, experimental foot-pedal modulations and songwriting credentials with his latest single ‘Abraham’. “You’ve never seen anyone play the bass like Miles Mosley,” Kamasi insisted. Patrice Quinn’s vocals were also on sparkling form as her unpredictable bop melodies formed a stirring accompaniment to her entrancing dance moves. There was plenty of room for some face-melting keytar work as well in the jammier, more funked-out moments.
The show was stolen by the cool razzmatazz of the main man’s masterly sax breaks, though, which channel the magic of classics like John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ as much as the modern edge of Kamasi’s work with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. Lengthy improvisations drifted back to familiar themes to rapturous applause, and the sound of jazz drifted through the Far Out stage and away over the Welsh mountains on a dreary Friday afternoon; most definitely a highlight of Green Man 2016.
This Kamasi Washington article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor. Photography by Daisy Jones