Chris Daly plays the maracas in the West Coast Get Down.
There seems to be a great deal of consternation and hand wringing surrounding Kamasi Washington’s latest album, Harmony of Difference, regarding whether or not it is a worthy successor to his master work debut, The Epic. At just 39 minutes and labeled an EP, what are we to make of a comparative nibble to The Epic’s sprawling, three disc, nearly three-hour gorging? To this, I reply, who cares? All you, the listener, need worry about is the fact that it starts with a bassline and transcends from there.
For the record, Harmony of Difference was conceived as a component of a larger work done with the visual artist, Amani Washington, incidentally Kamasi’s sister, for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2017 Biennial. For that piece, Kamasi’s music played while Amani’s artwork was projected onto a wall, eventually morphing into a face, with the idea that seemingly disparate forces can come together to form a thing of great beauty.
With or without that background knowledge, Harmony remains a powerful suite that has the strength to truly uplift the listener. Like a master chef, Washington realizes that the best meals have components that complement one another. Each track here does just that, with similar phrasing and runs heard throughout the album, every note seeming to build to the next.
That the album begins with Miles Mosley’s bass is both telling and fitting. While the album bears Washington’s name, one of his many true strengths lies in his ability to coax an undeniable sound and power from his bandmates, the collective known as the West Coast Get Down. Opener “Desire,” anchored by Mosley’s signature slink, is the first toe into a warm bath. The album invites the listener in immediately with its dulcet and inviting tones. From there, “Humility” ups the emotional heft, driven in no small part by the mountainous brass that propels the song.
“Knowledge” starts life as a more humble, constrained affair before exploding into a Washington sax run that is genuinely cathartic. “Perspective” delves into ‘70s grooves, and “Integrity” adds island percussion that bespeak late night affairs on a secluded beach somewhere. All of this culminates in the 13-and-a-half-minute release of “Truth,” the emotional highlight and poignant end to the album. Herein lies the perfect joy that is Kamasi and his band at their finest, each solo melding into the next, no one stealing the limelight, everyone sharing, with choral chants infused to give things an added, almost spiritual touch.
While attempting to label Washington’s sound seems a perplexing exercise at best, any who have seen him live can attest that he and his crew consistently create what I can only describe as a joyful noise. Even on the more somber and reflective tracks here, Washington infuses an uplifting and unmistakable undertone that has one hoping, not despairing. While there is no shortage of righteous (and rightful) anger in politically charged music these days, hand it to Washington for adding a healing note that has been sorely missing.