Jazz sax­o­phon­ist Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton searches for har­mony

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Rudi Green­berg

The first time you lis­ten to all of Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton’s new EP, “Har­mony of Dif­fer­ence,” you might think you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing deja vu.

The five short pieces (with ti­tles like “De­sire,” “Hu­mil­ity” and “In­tegrity”) that form the bulk of the jazz sax­o­phon­ist’s lat­est work are later united, re­worked and reprised as one longer piece, “Truth,” to close out the EP.

If you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion, when “Truth” kicks in, youmay think the EP has started over again. This is by de­sign. “Har­mony of Dif­fer­ence” was orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned as an ex­hibit piece for the Whit­ney Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art’s Bi­en­nial ear­lier this year.

“It was meant to be a cel­e­bra­tion of di­ver­sity,” Wash­ing­ton says.

For the ex­hibit at the New York City mu­seum, each of the five short songs was paired with videos that panned across paint­ings by Wash­ing­ton’s sis­ter, Amani, who worked us­ing her brother’s mu­sic as in­spi­ra­tion. Vis­i­tors en­tered a dark­ened roomand viewed the videos ac­com­pa­nied by the songs on one of three small pan­els. At the end, vis­i­tors gath­ered to­gether in front of a large wall to hear “Truth” while watch­ing a short film by A.G. Rojas that showed peo­ple from a va­ri­ety of cul­tures and back­grounds.

“At the end of it, ‘ Truth’ would come on and you’d hear those melodies, all those songs, to­gether and you’d have a col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence,” Wash­ing­ton says.

That idea is re­flected in the mu­sic. “When you bring mul­ti­ple cul­tures to­gether, there’s a de­gree of push and pull,” he says. “There’s gonna be some dif­fi­cul­ties but the end re­sult is some­thing beau­ti­ful, so it’s a metaphor for that same thing with the mu­sic. As you put these melodies to­gether there’s some points where there’s a dis­so­nance but it re­solves into some­thing beau­ti­ful.”

Wash­ing­ton, 36, has be­come one of the big­gest names in jazz in re­cent years thanks to col­lab­o­ra­tions with mu­si­cians like Ken­drick La­mar and Fly­ing Lo­tus and his ex­pan­sive, ex­ploratory and genre- de­fy­ing 2015 al­bum “The Epic.” ( Wash­ing­ton is now tour­ing, play­ing se­lec­tions fromthat al­bum and “Har­mony” with an eight­piece back­ing band.)

His mu­sic is for­ward­think­ing, yet it has shades of what came be­fore: You can hear jazz pi­o­neers Miles Davis and John Coltrane but also Quincy Jones, old Hol­ly­wood scores, ca­lypso and R&B.

Part of what makes Wash­ing­ton such a com­pelling com­poser is the way he takes his ex­pe­ri­ences with dif­fer­ent col­lab­o­ra­tors— as wide-rang­ing as Ryan Adams, Snoop Dogg and Thun­der­cat — and adds each to his mu­si­cal vo­cab­u­lary.

COUR­TESY OF SACKS AND CO.

Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton’s “Har­mony of Dif­fer­ence” was orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned for a mu­seum ex­hibit.

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