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KAMASI WASHINGTON - Fearless Movement

Ok, while we're already on the Jazz train, we should best just hop onto the most obvious waggon now, right?

Or in other words: Yay, a new Kamasi Washington double album is here!

KAMASI WASHINGTON - Fearless Movement (red & blue vinyl 2LP) (2024)

A thoughtful shaman and seasoned warrior, orbited by a playful little astronaut. Strong roots in history and eyes set onto the colourful future. That's the mission statement I see in the cover artwork. Kamasi Washington knows how to stage his confidence and ambition.
Speaking of the latter: His first regular non-soundtrack album after 2018's "Heaven and Earth" is less ambitious in scale than its monumental three and five (!) LP predecessors. This time it's just a regular 2 disc double album. And given how smoothly these twelve tracks pass by without any longueurs I am  positive he made the right choice with this less challenging format.

The two other things the saxophonist and composer dialed back to almost none and zero are choirs and strings. And the lack of both is barely noticable on first listen, because there still is so much happening both in the vocal department and in lush keyboard and brass arrangements, which take on a similar role to orchestral parts.

Before we even get into the actual musical content it's almost immediately evident that "Fearless Movement" is easily Washington's best sounding album so far. Starting with his signature two-drummer rhythm section and several additional guest percussionists, there is still quite a big band to be considered, but the production is never breaking under the weight of the line-up. Everything comes over crystal-clear, fresh and energetic.
The naysayers, who claim they still saw Charlie Parker performing in small NY clubs before he got famous, they will keep naysaying out of habit. In truth however every production issue you could have come up with in the past if you were looking for it, is definitely resolved.

"But Kamasi is an overrated hype and his playing can't hold a candle to [insert legendary Jazz giant of your choice here]!"
Come on, you're just playing the arrogant everything was better before card. At latest after three tracks everyone with only half-functioning ears must acknowledge the technical skill, emotion and personality in his performance. The particular way he runs the scales, pauses and lets his instrument rattle and roar beyond what it was build for - it's all amazing story-telling in a very recognizable voice.

And even if he was a lesser instrumentalist, this album would probably work great, because he has never actually been the one-man show you might expect from his album covers. "Fearless Movement" once again gathers all those familiar faces of his west coast crew, even those who are emphasized as features on some tracks are mostly just recent or former live band members in the spotlight on those songs.
Congenius trombone player Ryan Porter is there, Kamasi's father Ricky Washington on flute, Brandon Coleman on keys, double bassist extraordinaire Miles Mosley, on two tracks the unmistakable bubbling electric bass of Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat. And of course there's a lot of the soothing raspy Soul voice of Patrice Quinn, who has become an integral part of Washington's sound whenever it needs to speak beyond the rich instrumentals alone.

One could say that stylistically Kamasi Washington stays within his well-tried lane, as the bread and butter of this album remains a mixture of big band Spiritual Jazz and an ever-growing amount of funky Fusion, Afro-Beat and manifold details from the whole history of Jazz. But the lane widens: He's not afraid to sound too Pop at times, while on the other hand making no compromises regarding his artistic integrity. The two cover versions on the album being Zapp's 80's Funk hit "Computer Love" and Argentinian Tango composer Astor Piazolla's "Prologue" are a good representation of its range.

Even though he is well-known for working with Hip Hop and adjacent artists (Snoop Dogg, Flying Lotus, most noticeable of course the orchestrations on Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly") people have often wondered - or even complained - that so little of this influence is out in the open in his own work. Rejoice, you guys!

Especially during it's first half the album features turntables, various raps - and bridging those to the origin of many of the genre's favorite samples - even an appearance of Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton.
Maybe a red herring, but on the other hand pretty obvious is the fact that OutKast rapper turned Ambient New Age instrumentalist André 3000 is not spitting bars on "Dream State", but playing the flute.

The second half of the album focuses more on the already huge core group. The ecstatically anthemic "The Garden Path", the over thirteen minutes long "Road To Self (KO)" and the cosmic grandeur of Brandon Coleman's "Insterstellar Peace" (a title which already invites Sun Ra to watch and smile down from Saturn) are all breathtaking showcases of Kamasi Washington's beautiffuly unapologetic more is more maximalist mindset. And how can you end this journey stronger than with the cheekily placed aforementioned give me all you got super-powered epilogue "Prologue"? Damn, this finale is everything!

Due to the usual physical restrictions the order of tracks on the vinyl version (beautiful gatefold and flawless pressing) differs from the digital / double CD version, but since these almost ninety minutes of effervescent musical overflow are a "Fearless Movement" from one highlight to the next without any fillers at all anyway, both orders work equally fine.

Kamasi Washington continues to justify the ongoing hype - maybe even more than ever - and will rightfully find himself on the top of many favorite lists at the end of the year.

The only complaint I have is that his European tour in Fall doesn't come near Northern Germany. It has been a long-ass while since August 2016, you know?

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