Album Review: Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference

By Maria Lubanovic, Staff Writer
[Young Turks; 2017]
Rating: 8.5/10

Key Tracks: “Desire”, “Knowledge”, “Truth”

Harmony of Difference is the newest EP from American Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington. His previous album, The Epic, was over three hours long, so this half-hour EP feels like a breath of fresh air. Even though it’s shorter in length, it’s still packed to the gills with creative riffs and Washington’s excellent musicianship.

All the tracks on the album run back to back with each other, creating a cohesive flow and a complete connection throughout the entire EP. The whole album pulls from old-school jazz combined with newer elements to create a modern big band moment.

The album opens with “Desire”, a smooth and upbeat track with a simple sax line. It opens with quiet bass before cascading into a warm sax solo. Synth wavers behind it, but Washington’s sax playing is the star. Jazz organ enters to back up Washington’s screeching sax. The bass and synth moments sound like something out of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Humility” carries a more joyful feel, and the sax-driven rift is fast and exciting, before transitioning into a complicated piano solo. A trumpet soon takes over a similar melody before screeching into grinding tenor sax. The whole track follows a classic jazz setup, a chorus melody into various improvised sections and then back into the chorus.

“Knowledge” carries a softer tone, relying on sax and trumpet for its flowing melody. Enter the flugelhorn, a mellow brass instrument, to improvise over the soft piano, climbing bass and brushes on the drums. The sax takes over to effortlessly cascade over the rest of the ensemble. The track fades away before crashing right back into “Perspective”, which features more modern instrumental sounds before fitting into a bass and sax-driven groove, with some synth and basic electronic beats behind the ensemble, contributing to the modern feel (gotta love that vibraslap).

After opening with a multilayered percussion moment, “Integrity” transitions into a trumpet and sax dream. There is a percussion instrument in the back that sounds like a straw being slid in and out of a lid running through the whole track. The sax solo, as usual, is flawlessly executed before sliding into a strings solo, something not heard on this album until this track. The ensemble kicks in again to play the opening melody.

The album ends with the longest track, the 13-minute-long “Truth”. Sections from all the previous tracks are emulated in this one, culminating in one massive piece. It opens with soft drumming, bass, and piano, with a playful melody coming through on a xylophone. Brass players play long tones and as more instruments and singers enter, the track becomes a multilayered masterpiece. The track speeds up and drops all the instruments except the bass, the drums and of course the sax. The synchronization is on point and so on edge that it almost feels like the sax is about to go off the rails. Of course, it never does and is joined by a violin section and a choir to sing under the sax. The bass gets a nice quiet section to shine, which is quickly ushered out by violins. The xylophone returns with the trumpet and a synth. The choir takes over again, but this time will be the last as all the instruments contribute to the chord and then fade away. This whole track has many push-and-pulls moments, where instruments rub up against each other and trade off to create different variations on the same theme.

Harmony of Difference is a beautiful, cohesive and ambitious project that perfectly creates dynamic moments. Imagine the nicest coffee shop in the world: this is what they are softly playing over the speakers. The only problem is that the album is over too soon.

Listen Here:

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