Kamasi Washington : Fearless Movement

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Kamasi Washington fearless movement review

“A lot of times, I feel like you can kind of get stuck holding on to what you have because you’re unwilling to let it go,” Grammy-nominated jazz bandleader and saxophonist Kamasi Washington said in an interview with Zane Lowe about new album Fearless Movement. “This album is really speaking on that idea of just being comfortable in what you are and where you want to go.” Fearless Movement, the fifth full-length record from the Los Angeles-based musician, arrives at a time when artists of his stature may or could choose to change: Tighten up. Clench the sphincter. Dial it back. 

But many do not have that ear-bending breakthrough of a third studio album like 2015’s The Epic in their discography along with the ensuing ambitious yet also successful releases as well. Kamasi Washington’s kind of supernova, one that appeals to numerous people at once without watering down one milliliter of the output, didn’t just rebrand what was expected of contemporary jazz players, he sent axe players back into the woodshed, to sharpen that competitive blade.

Would we hear the likes of Lakecia Benjamin’s tropical storm of funk and R&B infused into the traditional idiom? Or have the proto-punk metal-jazz heat of James Brandon Lewis without Washington’s singular oeuvre on tenor sax? Nah. Kamasi upped the ante by creating majestic narratives, and these young lions, uber talented contemporaries, heard the charge and responded in kind.

The Epic arrived three months after the Grammy-winning, cultural, and musical juggernaut To Pimp a Butterfly from the LA-based, Pulitzer prize-winning emcee Kendrick Lamar—someone nobody in their right mind might choose to enter a diss-track battle with. That album featured Washington and many of his band members and to a large degree the entire Los Angeles Black music ecosystem—electronic, soul, hip-hop, jazz, funk, what have you, as a whole. The record? A hit. From Obama to Prince. It spoke loud and direct to us and all those who correspond. 

Washington’s enigmatic, accessible, and three-plus hour runtime of a monumental release challenged everybody’s ears—jazzbos and non-jazz music heads alike. But an additional fanbase got built in from the K.Dot’s opus. The Epic would have blown up anyway, with its construct of making a middle lane between avant-garde and spiritual jazz. Still, the hip-hop record of the year—some would also say of the decade—gave Washington’s release those extra legs and a significant cultural boost.

Almost ten years later Washington feels like he wants to get back to that grounded conversation. With a runtime at half of what he usually clocks in his albums at—generally about the length of a Marvel movie, with that bonus scene included—Fearless Movement works on an eye-level that celebrates the “be at where ya feet at” mentality. There is a compelling Roger Troutman cover here—Washington and company make the red-light slow jam ’80s classic “Computer Love” feel like a parable about online computer security. A sober 82-year-old George Clinton pops by for the funky “Get Lit” that welcomes Chocolate City one mo ‘gin. But as anyone could expect, Washington’s sorcery resides in the elongated cosmic arrangements that take a while to fully pop. 

If somebody had told me in my golden age hip-hop era that Andre 3000 on the flute and Washington on tenor sax would construct an improvised transcendent space-age jazz nigh-masterpiece of a tune, I’d have slapped the bejesus out of them with my ’90s Afrika medallion. Yet “Dream State,” with one foot in some peak Norman Connors-type percussion shuffle and the other shooting phasers dialed in on funk-funk, easily deserves to be on Three Stacks’ ambient record as well as Washington’s come-to-Jesus release. Gliding with those pastel airy inflections on keys, those bounce house bass notes, and again Washington having the know-how to recognize how much of a groove is happening, amidst all the triplets Andre is spiraling from his woodwind, takes the less is more approach and it fulfills the expedition, touching the stars. “Road to Self (KO)” gets into those atmospheric runs, too, where bass player extraordinaire Miles Mosley plucks, thumps, pulls, slaps, and eventually, we assume, whips out his bow and takes things into classical improvisatory directions. 

Fearless Movement combines the rarefied air with earthly activity, choosing to focus on the now, and for Washington, that too seems like a great achievement.

Label: Young

Year: 2024

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Kamasi Washington fearless movement review

Kamasi Washington : Fearless Movement

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