When: Wed., Sept. 9, 8 p.m. 2015
LA saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Kamasi Washington wasn’t kidding around when he titled his recent debut album Epic. It’s a 175-minute triple-album set released by Brainfeeder, the label founded by LA beat merchant Flying Lotus, and it arrives following Washington’s celebrated appearances on records by Kendrick Lamar. Still, none of that prepares you for its hefty ambition and stylistic rigor. The album, meticulously arranged and played, draws influence from the so-called spiritual jazz that came from early-70s folks like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. But there’s more to Washington’s game. The 34-year-old has been forging his aesthetic for years, working as a sideman for the likes of Chaka Khan and developing a tight-knit, dedicated band of collaborators with whom he owns a recording studio and cuts records that have thus far gone unreleased. For this magnificent project Washington oversaw dozens of musicians, including a full choir and string section, to sculpt an elaborate, dramatic album marked by dense and ever-changing arrangements, spirited improvisation, and fluent adaptations of vintage soul, Afrobeat, funk, and classic jazz. A version of the standard “Cherokee” adapts the feel of Young Holt Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut” and features crystalline singing from Patrice Quinn (they also transform Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” into a shape-shifting, horn-stoked ballad that moves between soul and Ellington-like grandeur). Epic can be fatiguing at times as a result of its sheer magnitude and detail-rich execution, but it’s also undeniably impressive. I can’t wait to hear where Washington goes from here. In his Chicago debut he leads a stripped-down band featuring Quinn, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Miles Mosley, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner.