One of the great jazz musicians and composer of the current generation, Kamasi Washington was introduced as a collaborator in many excellent hip-hop releases, from genre heavyweights in the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels, to experimental left field artist Flying Lotus and bassist extraordinaire Thundercat. However, the first time he ventured out on his own, Washington released one of the best albums of the decade, in the triple record The Epic. Carrying on in the same tradition of jazz icons John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Washington did not simply pay tribute to these legends but moved the sound forward.
The Epic is a very hard album to follow. Its ambitious scope, diverse compositions, technical aptitude, everything about the record was spot on. With Harmony of Difference, his latest EP, Washington still finds the same ambition and drive that was required to forge The Epic, creating an otherworldly record in the process. The EP explores the capabilities of “counterpoint”, which, according to Washington, is “the art of balancing similarity and difference to create harmony between separate melodies”. It is a core feature in the sound of the EP, where phrases collide, creating these magnificent bursts of harmony.
The more energetic performances of the record display this characteristic, as is the case with “Humility”, a track on a big band level, arriving with force and a frenetic rhythm, and at the same time appearing smooth and organic. The subtle drum performance and the leading piano lines are some of the highlights that make this trip so intriguing and lead the momentum. The groove and delivery are altered at other moments, either for a funkier alternative, in “Perspective”, or with a more calypso-influenced, tribalesque aesthetic in “Integrity”, displaying the full range of Washington’s versatility.
The key element, however, and something that Washington appears to do in great fashion is the finesse that runs through this album. That is the biggest lesson he has taken from his predecessors, molding the mood and smooth style of playing, the subtle melodies and tones that can awaken emotion and transfer the listener into a state of tranquility. The manner in which the album is introduced with “Desire” features this bluesy and more mellow side of Washington, with even the crescendos retaining this smooth touch. It is a quality that elevates the record into a dreamy state, not so far as to move into a psychedelic domain, but enough to give this illusion of escapism. The mesmerizing delivery is transcendental, as the tracks elevate to a different level, as in the case of “Knowledge” with its elusive and melodic form coming in and out of view.
While the majority of the tracks do not pass the five-minute mark, something completely different from The Epic, Washington ends this marvelous trip on a high note, with the 13-minute long opus “Truth”. Moving away from the dreamy perspective and into Coltrane’s spiritual leanings, illustrated by the background choir, “Truth” is a monumental work that transpires on a cosmic perspective. Rich in its elements, not unlike a Basquiat painting, and fearless in its progressions it further establishes the artist’s lineage. It sums up Washington in a perfect manner, who rather than copying the great masters, opens up a new path and carries the torch. Rather than living in the past or getting lost in modernity, Washington coalesces these two worlds, providing a dramatic move forward without losing his identity in the process.