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Take Five: Kamasi Washington and Herbie Hancock kick off the NYC outdoor summer concert season

Kamasi Washington, "The Garden Path"

Tenor saxophone brawler Kamasi Washington, who opens the new season of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! on Wednesday night, last released a full-length solo album in 2018. (Since then, there have been EPs, like his score for the Michelle Obama doc Becoming, and collaborative work like his releases with Dinner Party.) So it caused some fans to sit up straight when he released a new single, "The Garden Path," earlier this year. An indictment of our current political climate, it features a vocal refrain in the chorus: "Bright minds / With dark eyes / Speak loud words / Tell sweet lies." Washington sounds impassioned in his solo, as usual. And as on his late-night television debut, on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the musicians in his circle — including his father, Rickey Washington, on flute; Brandon Coleman on keyboards; and Ryan Porter on trombone — bring the heat. It's probably a good preview of what will happen this week.

Herbie Hancock, live from Montreal

The legendary Herbie Hancock, who recently turned 82, is no stranger to the New York outdoor summer concert vibe: perhaps you recall his 2016 show at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! (featured in a classic episode of Jazz Night in America). We're still waiting on his much-anticipated new album, which will reportedly feature guest turns by Snoop Dogg, Flying Lotus, Common and more. So for now, we'll share a clip from a recent edition of Hancock's touring band, caught at the Montreal Jazz Festival a few years back. It features Lionel Loueke on guitar and James Genus on electric bass — two of the musicians likely to resurface on Saturday at SummerStage.

Keyon Harrold, "Her Beauty Through My Eyes"

Trumpeter and composer Keyon Harrold is always a blur of activity — in the studio, as creative advisor of Jazz St. Louis, and as an artist on tour. (Over the weekend he joined The Baylor Project in performing the national anthem at the first NASCAR race in St. Louis.) Harrold's most recent album, The Mugician, was released back in 2017, but he has kept refining its message on the road. Here's a performance from Bird's Basement in Melbourne, Australia in Nov. 2019 (months before the first pandemic lockdown), featuring regular collaborators like guitarist Nir Felder. It's probably an accurate preview of what Harrold will bring to his set opening for Hancock on Saturday night.

Ravyn Lenae, "Xtasy"

No, she isn't a jazz artist. But Ravyn Lenae — whose debut album, Hypnos, just made NPR Music's "Best of May" roundup on All Songs Considered — inhabits the zone where space-age jazz inflection meets brooding R&B and soul. Hailing from Chicago, Lenae has roots in both the gospel church and that city's independent music scene; she studied classical music at the Chicago High School for the Arts, and was a charter member of the artist collective Zero Fatigue. "Xtasy," an album track produced by KAYTRANADA, captures some of the simmering intrigue in her sound. It's one great reason to show up on time for Kamasi's show, where Lenae will be an opening act.

Flying Lotus, "Moment of Hesitation"

Here's our bonus track for the week. The aforementioned Flying Lotus — otherworldly producer, trailblazing electronic artist, experimental filmmaker, scene-making label head — will not be performing in New York this week. But he's a meaningful point of overlap for Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington. If you've never heard it before, take a moment to bask in "Moment of Hesitation," from his 2014 album You're Dead! Featuring Hancock on Fender Rhodes and Washington on tenor saxophone, it's a blast of Afrofuturist post-bop, arcing skyward over a swinging groove.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.