Kamasi Washington brings The Epic to life at World Cafe Live

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Kamasi Washington | Photo by John Vettese
Kamasi Washington | Photo by John Vettese

Saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington brought an 8-piece version of the West Coast Get Down to World Café Live on Thursday as part of his first east coast excursion in support of his attention-grabbing debut The Epic. Even stripped of the orchestra and choir, his band lives up to that album title. Both roof-raising showmen and envelope-pushing adventurers, Washington and company delivered on the converging promises of George Clinton’s Afro-futurist funk and the boundary-obliterating jazz reinventions of late Coltrane and electric Miles.

Within the confines of a single, albeit sprawling, solo – as on the soul-jazz romp “Leroy and Lanisha” – Washington’s tenor morphed from gritty R&B lick to serpentine modal exploration with molten fluidity. In between urging the sold-out crowd to visit his father (when not adding his flute and soprano to the frontline) at the merch table to pick up a tank top, Washington used the occasion to spotlight his explosive band, most of whom also recorded albums during the 30-day studio marathon that resulted in The Epic.

Two new pieces were unveiled during the two-hour set: a taut, spiky modern jazz piece by drummer Tony Austin and a rousing soul tune from bassist Miles Mosely, whose bristling vocal turn received a deafening response from the crowd. Mosely was a revelation throughout, his upright bass (a “regulation bass,” as Washington pointed out, “no motors or buttons, made of wood grown from dirt, no Monsanto”) evoking a turntable-scratching DJ one moment, a blistering electric guitar the next. The drum tandem of Austin and Ronald Bruner, Jr., maintained roiling rhythms throughout, especially on the Ethiopian jazz-influenced “Re Run Home” and a climactic drum duel on “The Magnificent 7.”

The show was opened by Philly saxophonist Korey Riker, who showed off the tight ensemble playing he’s honed while on the road with John Legend, especially when turning sharp-angled phrases with trombonist Ernest Stuart and trumpeter Leon Jordan, Jr.; and Darla, an amiable 7-piece drawing from jam band and funk inspirations for their buoyant sound.

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