By Abhishek Sherigar
Heaven and Earth is the sophomore double record by one of today’s most prolific figures in jazz music, Kamasi Washington. This new album certainly isn’t perfect, yet it is still a bold departure from what has been done, and I can respect it for that.
Washington is one of the main figures who is to be given credit for the jazz styling and influences of hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar. He even was the musical director for Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly. He is of a generation of jazz musicians who have had a plethora of influences from around the musical spectrum, not just from Coltrane and Davis records. He is a central figure for a new wave of modern jazz music. This is music made by artists who aren’t fixated on the past but instead are willing to move forward, willing to change and adapt. They are creating music which incorporates interesting and new influences while still paying homage to that which came before.
The first track on the record is a cover of the theme to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury. It features a dramatic string section in addition to a driving percussion section full of energy and sometimes erratic piano. The vocals from Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible complement the track quite nicely. The single off the second disc, “Street Fighter Mas,” is my favorite on the album. It’s the track where the whole grand, dramatic, and orchestral motif that you can hear through the album is pulled off best. The background singers support the dark tone of Kamasi’s tenor sax and the muted trumpet solo.
There were some bold creative decisions made by Kamasi on this record. “Vi Lua Vi Sol” features a strange electronically altered vocal line that plays during the beginning and end. To me it seemed strange and out of place compared to the rest of song. The fourth track on the second disc, “Song For The Fallen,” features a combination of Kamasi’s quick and energetic playing, driving percussion, and the occasional piano or guitar slathered with pedal effects. Of course, Kamasi included his background choir, something you see throughout the album. This whopping twelve minutes and forty-two seconds of music got quite close to putting me into a trance.
In contrast to what seems to be a pattern in a lot of new music, Kamasi doesn’t opt for a more stripped down or minimal sound. Instead he employs his large accompanying band to its fullest extent in order to reach a huge and dramatic sound. While this works well in the beginning, once I got to the second half of the album this repeated theme simply became quite overbearing. If everything is some epic theme to a climactic battle, then the weight that the track is supposed to carry simply falters.
While having a few standout tracks like “Street Fighter Mas” and “Fists of Fury,” this album did fall a bit short of my expectations. It is by no means a modern classic like Kamasi’s first album, The Epic. That was a nearly three-hour-long masterpiece that I would recommend to anyone looking for an almost surreal and religious experience. Despite this, I still have to commend his work in innovation and experimentation. This album brings together influences from Latin music, film, and gospel to create something unique even though it might feel a tad bit tedious.