Music Reviews
Heaven and Earth

Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth

(Young Turks) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

"With our song, one day we'll change the world, will you sing?" is the choral grandstand to Heaven and Earth, an album so dense and epic in its execution that ensures that statement carries plenty of potency.

After creating such a warranted stir with his first album, Kamasi Washington shows no sign of second album jitters, unleashing a double-headed beast of a record. Grand concepts such as these have on innumerable occasions in the past drawn unfavorable commentary, but this is a record that is unaware of any limiting factors. The vast majority of tracks here clock in at well over eight minutes, which isn't unusual in jazz, but across this sixteen track sprawl, Washington isn't only seeking to wow us with frenetic solo workouts. The music takes in more straight-ahead funk, vocals and choral elements, sweeping string sections, and processed guitar and vocal lines, with murmurs, shouts and background effects that help to create a hugely musical soundscape.

Fists Of Fury, the opening track and one of two previewed before the record's release, sets Heaven and Earth into motion. It establishes key themes that exist throughout the full track listing, with a strident choral/string section establishing the theme of the piece - giving way first to a blistering piano solo - followed by Kamasi ripping through a sax lead that emphatically leads us back into the theme at the top. This is the predominant song structure on the record, and for the most part, serves to highlight the melodic qualities of what are often dense pieces of music. Where this is particularly true is when the bookended melodies combine with the solo sections, producing blistering, almost otherworldly passages of music in Can You Hear Him and One of One from the Earth section, and Vi Lua Vi Sol and Will You Sing from Heaven. That said, where such a compositional form is made extensive use of, perhaps inevitably there are pieces that don't scan as well melodically; Hub-Tones and The Invincible Youth, although expertly crafted, don't quite retain the same power.

More enduring are the numbers where this form is slightly or even completely altered. Connections opens with a low key, brooding atmosphere before gradually building tempo back into the music off of a pattern of block chords on the piano, breakwatered with a dream state-like orchestral section. It stops, and then starts again, and continues this pattern with brass and sax building more urgency through each passage, resulting in a very satisfying movement of music. Similarly, Street Fighter Mas locks down on a funk groove by using orchestral breaks to build and weave subtle solos into each new passage to great effect. Where there are vocal tracks, this technique has also been used very effectively, with choral singers chanting and singing repeating lyrics, before giving way to solo sections and returning, further adding to the hypnotic quality of the builds (Testify and especially the closing track succeed here).

The track that stands out above all others, however, dances to its own tune. Second preview track The Space Travelers Lullaby is a gorgeous change of pace and a piece of music that ebbs and flows with deep lush strings, with Kamasi in a soulful, contemplative mood on his instrument. The piece never gives in to the urge to go full throttle and is rewarded for this with a beautiful coda by Washington with an unexpected orchestral surge to close. It's a wonderful track, quite an achievement to stand out amongst several others of great quality.

Washington has commented on the concept of Heaven and Earth, describing the former as a place only believed in, and the latter as one we experience. But that for many, they exist as real as one another. Listening to this album, a cursory glance at the title would have you believe that one will be an intense drudge and the other all things light, stringed and bowed. But the music is at turns bewildering, cathartic and questioning throughout; there is no separation. An exceptional record from one of the music world's brightest talents. [Believe the Hype]