Radiantly emotive, cosmically expansive, and technically challenging, Kamasi Washington‘s sophomore effort ‘Heaven and Earth’ evokes lurid reverence within listeners. Moving at thirty kilometers per second, Washington inclines towards documentary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio‘s frenetic pacing, Turiya Alice Coltrane‘s spirituality, and Hayao Miyazaki‘s enveloping warmth. Upon even just a first listen, one wonders not whether ‘Heaven and Earth’ is an extraordinary album, which it most certainly is, but how we might reflect upon the effort in forty years’ time.
While there exists controversy about whether “cusps” exist in the Western zodiac, Kamasi Washington‘s birth on 18 February,1981 squarely places the musician on the supremely creative, harmonious, and intuitive Aquarius-Pisces cusp. Regardless of skepticism surrounding astrology, Washington evidently blends lofty, abstract ideas and avant-garde style (air signs, including the consummate individual Aries, exist within an intellectual realm) with the tender empathy and fluid artistry of watery Pisces. This delicate balance pervades the LP from the outset.
‘Fists of Fury’ calls upon listeners to physically resist oppressors as Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible simultaneously declare, “I use hands / To help my fellow many / I use hands / To do just what I can / And when I face with unjust injury / Then I change my hand / To fist of fury.” While this unwavering, resolute utterance looks beyond passive resistance, it suggests neither unfettered rage nor inert despair. Yes, there does exist “a deeper level of healing that needs to happen for the world in general,” and just as an organism’s body eradicates disease to restore balance, societal healing may — or, perhaps, must — be forceful. Ultimately, any resistance will require those who imagine an open future to stand in solidarity, to tend to one another’s emotional and spiritual needs. This music, abstract and manifold, offers precisely that comforting support to its audience.
Having imparted the record’s metaphysical undertones, Kamasi Washington trusts listeners to subconsciously hold onto this purpose as subsequent tracks conjure galactic vistas (‘Vi Lua Vi Sol’), psychedelic revelations (‘Connections’), and the occasionally summery reprieve (‘Testify’). Elsewhere, ‘Street Fighter Mas’, which is accompanied by a remarkable video, approaches sonic cinema as Washington‘s saxophone recalls film noir while a bulbous, extraterrestrial generously occupies the track’s lower portion. Follow-up track ‘Song for the Fallen’ offers traces of ‘Thrust’-era Herbie Hancock while the opening key progression on ‘Show Us The Way’ finds Washington self-reflexively alluding to ‘Change of the Guard’, the album-opener to 2015’s ‘The Epic’.
‘Heaven and Earth’ implies esoteric, though not inaccessible, meaning. Concurrently transcendent and corporeal, the record encourages one to consider how music, a result of manipulation the physical world, is still an ethereal, quasi-divine experience. Upon its conclusion with ‘Will You Sing’, the album mirrors its original call to action in directly asking the listener if they, too, will sing (“With our song one day we’ll change the world / Will you sing?“). The otherworldly instrumentals and choir synthesize in emphatically drawing the record to a breath-taking end.
Similar to Kamasi Washington‘s previous full-length effort, ‘Heaven and Earth’ is difficult, requiring considerable effort from its audience; however, that is not to suggest that it is unwieldy or redundant. This is one of those rare artistic statements that causes listener’s preconceptions to dissolve within its liquid soundscapes. Moreover, it may even inspire avant-garde jazz neophytes to study the style further — or, at least, gape at its possibilities. Regardless of the degree to which one engages with this album, there exists a palpable sense that Kamasi Washington is merely at the beginning of a career we can only hope will flourish as we heal this shared existence.
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The full tracklist is as follows:
1. Fists of Fury
2. Can You Hear Him
6. The Invincible Youth
8. One of One
9. The Space Travelers Lullaby
10. Vi Lua Vi Sol
11. Street Fighter Mas
12. Song for the Fallen
14. The Psalmnist
15. Show Us the Way
16. Will You Sing
‘Heaven and Earth’ is out now via Young Turks.