Album Review: Kamasi Washington’s The Epic

Peter Sanderson, Contributing Writer

Kamasi Washington’s The Epic is an epic indeed, composed of nearly three hours of pure jazz and instrumental- driven music led by the wizard Washington himself and backed by countless incredible musicians. After collaborating with names such as Mos Def and Lauryn Hill, then most notably working as a producer for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Washington finally has released his debut studio album to widespread positive review. By attracting those unacquainted with jazz through his work with Lamar and other artists, he has brought forth a crowd of both old and new fans, locking the two in place through his masterfully modern work. Due to both the nature of the EP and aim of the project, huge saxophone solos are backed with a rich, vibrant sound from collaborators of Washington’s band, “The West Coast Get Down” (including bassist extraordinaire Thundercat who worked with Washington on TPAB), a 20-member choir, and a full 32-piece orchestra.) Those saxophone pieces, however, are the standout moments of the album—gorgeously wrought emotional roller coasters, taking the listener on highs and lows one would think the instrument incapable of procuring.

While the prospect of such a technical work may seem daunting to those unfamiliar with the genre, the music transcends traditional jazz with a flavor completely unique to Washington. While John Coltrane may have been one of his greatest inspirations, his own music infuses elements of Neo-Soul, R&B, and Funk, to weave a tapestry of undeniable musical genius, and one accessible to all. Highlighted tracks include both the opener, “Change of the Guard” (for which an entire story was written for the events described by the music), and “The Magnificent 7,” one of the hardest hitting and emotional pieces both of the album and of Washington body of work to date. Through the length of the album, which translated itself into tracks averaging nine minutes, each song is able to have its own place on the project, from melancholy melodies pulling at heart strings to breakneck tracks racing to tell their individual tales.

By changing the standard jazz formula through the influence of other genres, unbelievable production time, and the sheer ambition of the EP, Kamasi Washington has not only given us a work of art to listen to, but establishes himself as one of, if not the premier, jazz artists of the decade.