Kamasi Washington | Heaven and Earth | Album Review

Young Turks
Rating: 5 out of 5

Kamasi Washington’s new album Heaven and Earth is a tour-de-force of powerful fusion jazz. Washington’s two-part album harkens back to works like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew with its wandering interludes that transform into impassioned solos and memorable motifs. At almost two-and-a-half hours, the entire collection is a beast just to sit through. Still, the music takes listeners on a dynamic journey through both heavenly and earthly realms.

Choral and orchestral backing adds tension throughout the songs and helps tie the two parts of the album together. Washington uses the choir to add a particularly dramatic effect in the final song of the first half, “One of One,” in which it builds behind a screaming fast sax solo. He does this again in “Street Fighter Mas,” creating a refrain that acts as a foothold among the ever-changing musical landscape.

The first half of the album opens with “Fists of Fury,” which seems to muse over the reactive side to social justice. Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible sing, “And when I’m faced with unjust injury / Then I change my hands / To fists of fury.” Another song from later in the first half, “The Invincible Youth,” features a chaotic frenzy of instrumentation at both the introduction and departure reflecting the chaotic world into which young people are thrown.

In the second part of the album, Washington evokes the cosmos in songs like “The Space Travelers Lullaby” and “Vi Lua Vi Sol” where he sings a love song to the solar system. The choir returns in the final song, “Will You Sing,” to deliver a spiritual call to those on earth to affect change through spirituality.

Heaven and Earth flows effortlessly between the temporal and the spiritual. Washington interweaves a complex mix from both worlds as he attempts to reconcile the conflict between the collective need for justice and the individual desire for spiritual transcendence.

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