HEAVEN AND EARTH
(Young Turks/Remote Control)
Kamasi Washington loves playing alternate cards of predictability and surprise. Having created an expectation of further monumentalism with 2015’s The Epic, he doesn’t disappoint, but nor does he fail to surprise. Try opening with the theme from the kung fu film Fists of Fury, for instance: who else would see this as both an improvising vehicle (spawning a spirited Cameron Graves piano solo) and a chance to erect sonic immensities with a 12-piece band, 26-piece orchestra and 13-piece choir?
This double album, hinged around the concept of the consciousness looking out (the first album, Earth) and looking in (the second, Heaven), has all the Washington trademarks: two drummers, two percussionists and two keyboards players pave the pieces with the granite density that is his preferred runway to achieve lift-off on his zooming tenor saxophone. Attempting jazz-based music on this scale certainly requires chutzpah, and yet the sound and fury can ring hollow, the improvising feeling almost dwarfed by the massive edifices that house it (sometimes with wildly overblown choir arrangements). I tend to prefer the drive and litheness when the band is about octet-sized.