WBGO Blog
  • First Listen: Kamasi Washington, 'The Epic'

    April 26, 2015

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    Kamashi Washington's new album, The Epic, comes out May 5. (Image Credit: Mike Park/Courtesy of the artist)

    The word "epic" sits cheerily amid the most overused hyperbole of our age. Teenage bros proclaim their recent "pretty epic" mild successes; sports commentators call anything which ends dramatically an "epic game"; the Internet-literate are quick to point out an "epic FAIL." But what else do you call a three-CD, nearly three-hour album anchored by a 10-piece jazz band, featuring a 32-piece orchestra and 20-member choir, and driven by the daydream of an imaginary martial arts grandmaster?

    The Epic is the title of the new recording from 34-year-old saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington, a musician you may have heard but not heard of. That's his horn all over the newest releases by fellow Southern Californians Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. (The Epic is being issued by Brainfeeder, the record label Lotus co-founded.) Washington has toured with Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq and Chaka Khan; his jazz credentials include work with elders like Gerald Wilson, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Burrell. The singing electric bassist Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., are lifelong friends; in fact, Washington has known most of his bandmates since high school in in South Central Los Angeles.

    The confluence of those experiences — of participating in a huge and diverse LA jazz scene, of making music people actually dance to, of working with like-minded peers for years — emerges here as scope and grandeur. The Epic swims in rhythmic crosscurrents, with two bassists, two keyboard players, two drummers. It's made tall and wide by the presence of strings and voices, made forceful and direct by horn solos and singer Patrice Quinn. It seems intentionally to overwhelm, in an immersive way; it's music to be swept up by and revisited after the wave subsides.

    In working with so many future-forward musicians, you might expect Washington's music to be equally slippery and resistant to categorization. Surely it is to some extent, as his band pulls from a huge bag of tricks. It also likes a driving modal swing groove or a knotty post-bop horn melody; it plays the blues and the standard "Cherokee." They execute these ideas with such bigness, and such a wide color palette, and a mission to remake the word "jazz" in the image of their own generation. That's the feat here. You wouldn't be wrong to call that ambition epic.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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  • The Legacy Of The Jazz Organ In Philadelphia

    April 22, 2015

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    Rich Budesa was one of six organists to perform. (Image Credit: WXPN)

    In mid-century Philadelphia, dozens of organists reshaped jazz into a popular, swinging, danceable contemporary music. Often in trios with drums and guitar or saxophone, these organ players made church instruments into portable orchestras — a tradition that continues to the present day in Philadelphia.

    Jazz Night In America visits Philadelphia's World Café Live, where WXPN, WRTI and the Philadelphia Jazz Project organized a tribute to three native sons and daughters of the organ tradition: Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott and Charles Earland. Many top local performers help explain what made their city's jazz organ culture thrive.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • Akua Dixon At Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival

    April 22, 2015

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    Akua Dixon. (Image Credit: Jose Iorio/Courtesy of the artist)

    It's not as if there were ever clear paths for cello players beyond the European classical tradition, but Akua Dixon made one for herself. The New York City native found work in the pit band of the Apollo Theater, the multi-racial Symphony of the New World, and the bands of many jazz musicians — including drummer Max Roach's Double Quartet. As she developed her jazz chops, she also started her own string quartet, featured prominently on her new self-titled album. Akua Dixon also features her crafty arranging for strings over jazz standards and Afro-Latin grooves.

    Jazz Night In America visits Sistas' Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn — a year-round venue which also helps to present an annual month-long grassroots festival in the heavily African-American neighborhood — to take in Akua Dixon's performance at the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival. In addition to the string ensemble featured on her latest album, Dixon is also joined by her two children: vocalist Andromeda Turre and drummer Orion Turre.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .