Festivals, Reviews

Kamasi Washington review (Melbourne International Arts Festival)

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Taking the stage to the tune of James Brown’s Get Up Offa That Thing, Kamasi Washington and his band The Next Step opened their Hamer Hall performance with good vibes from the get-go.

Despite having powerful and upbeat jazz tones, the concert had a very calming ambience. Washington and his fellow band members exuded a relaxed disposition, and were fixed on enjoying themselves as much as we were. There was no need to pump up and excite the crowd; they were content to just play some really good music.

The keyboardist Brandon Coleman emphasised this, by dashing his hands across the keys in a manner that requires immense concentration, all the while keeping a smile upon his face. It seemed amiss to be so happy and content while playing such powerful and fast music. Coleman’s playing style was so enchanting that I was inspired to start learning the keyboard.

Although I attended a “Kamasi Washington” show, I felt like I was watching a jazz band, rather than a jazz performer accompanied by his eight-piece ensemble. They all walked on and off the stage together and each member played a solo to highlight their individual talents. It was a perfect demonstration of jazz as the weaving of instrumental solos throughout a song.

Although I attended a “Kamasi Washington” show, I felt like I was watching a jazz band, rather than a jazz performer accompanied by his eight-piece ensemble.

Washington was there to introduce sets and bring the show together but unlike many gigs by solo artists, our eyes were on all performers and not just him.

Preserving the wholesome mood he had going, Washington brought his father on stage for part of the set. Not only was Rickey Washington arguably as good a musician as his son, he was also happy just chilling. He would walk around stage and sit down when he felt like it, which further added to the relaxed feel of the show. And in true proud Dad fashion, he filmed the crowd at the end with a huge smile on his face.

The show included a “drum conversation”, perhaps the peak of the whole concert. Initially believing it was a bold and risky move to have two drum sets on stage, I’m now convinced it made the show. Washington explained that the reason behind the two drum sets was purely because he “liked drums”. Works for me.

I have never seen more eyes-closed-head-nod-feel-the-music vibes in a crowd before, and it’s safe to say Kamasi Washington is reshaping jazz. By sprinkling it with hip-hop and soul and infusing his style into the works of Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, he’s taking traditional jazz music in eclectic directions.

With Washington serving as a modern leader for this progressive and improvisational style of music, it’s no wonder young audiences are developing a taste for jazz.

The show can perhaps best be summarised with a quote I overheard from another audience member on our way out: “That was some real jazz shit”.

Kamasi Washington played as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival on October 8.

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