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Jazz great Kamasi Washington back in town

Scott Haas
Jazz great Kamasi Washington back in town

Kamasi Washington, Grammy and Emmy nominated saxophonist, instrumentalist and composer, will bring his talents to City Winery in Boston this month. His stop is part of a national tour at City Winery venues throughout the country; and it culminates in an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 4. Joining him in Boston is vocalist and composer Ami Taf Ra, who integrates Arabic and European musical traditions in her work. Her album, “EastWest,” released in 2018, has six of her original compositions and three cover songs.

“Having Ami Taf Ra join the tour came about because we’re working on a record together,” Washington told the Banner.  “She’s a Moroccan, Middle Eastern jazz artist who is very free and very open. We also share an interest in the books of Kahlil Gibran, which we started reading together. Our album should be out next year.”

Asked what to expect in the Boston shows, Washington said, “We always keep things pretty fresh, pretty spontaneous.  We create the moment we’re in, something that is tailor-made for the moment, all our energy for that moment. And of course, there will be songs from my previous albums, including the soundtrack I did for the Michelle Obama project . . .[and] maybe a cover I did of Metallica’s song, ‘My Friend of Misery.’”

Washington’s full debut recording, “The Epic,” was released in 2015 as a triple album. (He released “Harmony of Difference” in 2017 as an EP.)  “The Epic” draws upon jazz improvisation, hip-hop rhythms, pop melodies and orchestral structure of the sort often associated with classical music. It’s far from a hodge-podge. Rather, what is happening is a fascinating and original arrangement of sounds inspired by the world as it is, and it’s danceable, too, in parts.

Washington does not see jazz as an art form belonging in a museum with a canon of rules.  Think George Clinton meets Duke Ellington, with compliments to Sun Ra.

“Heaven and Earth,” his second recording, is a double album released in 2018. Similar to “The Epic,” each song is almost an album in itself due to the depth of music and lyrics.  The words are deceptively simple and straightforward, like Kafkaesque aphorisms, for example, these from “The Rhythm Changes” on “Vol-ume 2, The Glorious Tale”: “Our minds, our bodies, our feelings, they change, they leave us.”

Washington’s music is enhanced by his spirituality. “Music comes from a spiritual place. There’s freedom in songs, and when you listen to music, it can become the biggest voice in the room.  I want to be part of that giving force,” he said.

Having recorded with Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and Raphael Saadiq, among others, outside the world of jazz, Washington continues to broaden his horizons. He was seen performing on the final episode of “Homeland,” in which the stars of the show attend one of his concerts.  He also composed the soundtrack to “Becoming,” the movie based on Michelle Obama’s memoir. His songs on that soundtrack showcase his allegiance to melody.

Washington plays at City Winery May 9-11. The first two shows begin at 7:30 p.m.  The third and final show has an early bird performance at 6:00 p.m. and one at 9:30 p.m.

Washington also provided music for “A Small Light,” a documentary miniseries from Disney+ and National Geographic about Miep Gies.  She was the Dutch-Austrian individual who helped hide Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam during the state-ordered murders of Jews. Este Haim, of the musical group HAIM, is the executive music director of the miniseries. Washington recorded a version of the Charlie Parker tune “Cheryl” for it. The series premiered May 1.

City Winery, jazz, music, Newport Jazz Festival
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