If Barry B. Benson were to ask me “ya like jazz?”, my answer would be an enthusiastic, unabashed “hell yes”. I’ve loved jazz my entire life, and my favorite artist as of late has been Kamasi Washington. He’s arguably the most famous jazz musician that currently makes music on a regular basis, and his most recent album, Heaven & Earth, came out earlier this year. When I saw he was coming to the Ritz earlier this month, I jumped at the chance to buy a ticket, as I had missed him when he came last year. I had heard amazing things about his live shows, but even as a Kamasi superfan, I simply didn’t know what to expect. His studio work is phenomenal but is oftentimes so epic in nature (his 2015 three-hour magnum opus is literally called The Epic) that I was skeptical of how he would replicate that same energy live (about half of his songs feature full string arrangements and a 10 piece choir in addition to his normal band). In the end, to put it bluntly, I was blown away.
I arrived at the Ritz about an hour early and was stunned to see a nearly empty venue. This didn’t last long though, because by the time opening act Butcher Brown showed up (they were fantastic, by the way), it was a packed house. After an agonizing 15-minute wait after Butcher Brown finished (it seriously felt like years), Kamasi and his band, The West Coast Get Down, stepped out on stage to thunderous applause. After a brief introduction, they launched straight into a jam session built on “Hub-Tones”, a Freddie Hubbard cover from his latest album.
It cannot be understated how absolutely kick-ass every single musician on stage that night was. This is a group of musicians that have literally been playing together since they were three, and it showed. Everyone was in sync, and everyone looked like they were having so much fun. The first half of the set belonged to his band, with vocalist Patrice Quinn and bassist Miles Mosley being the standouts. This was particularly true during the second song, “Malcolm’s Theme”, where Mosley whipped out a bow in the middle of his upright bass solo (it might be the best I’ve ever heard), and Quinn delivered pitch perfect, powerful vocals. She is an amazing singer, has a great stage presence, and fits perfectly within Kamasi’s band.
But the musician that really brought the house down that night was his keyboardist, Brandon Coleman. Kamasi told a story early on in which he said that his bandmates eventually discovered that if you put Brandon on something, he instantly makes it better (hence his nickname, Hot Sauce). The third song they played was actually a cut off of Brandon’s excellent solo album Resistance, “Giant Feelings”. This man is a genius on keyboard, up there with legends like Herbie Hancock and Ahmad Jamal.
Aside from a drum battle between Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner mid-set, the rest of the night belonged to Kamasi. To witness him playing tenor sax live is a seriously spiritual experience. Watching him guide his band through his deeply personal, breathtaking, grandiose compositions like “Truth” and “The Space Travelers Lullaby” really makes you realize what a special talent he is. The night closed with his rendition of a Bruce Lee movie’s theme song (“Fists of Fury”), which ended in this glorious cascade of beautiful noise that… I can’t even put into words how good it was.
I didn’t go into the night thinking that it would be one of the best nights of my life, and yet I came out of that building so happy I wanted to scream. I ended up meeting Miles and Brandon, and took one of the coolest pictures I’ll ever take: me, standing next to my musical hero, with a signed copy of his masterpiece in my hand.
-DJ HEAD HUNTER