Review: Kamasi Washington, Yaam, Berlin
A night out in Berlin with the man and band behind the album of the year
It really seems as if I’ve spent 2015 covering Brainfeeer acts. There was an interview with label boss Flying Lotus about life and death ahead of a superb Dublin show. Last Friday, it was bass digger Thundercat who was on the cover of The Ticket and talking large inside ahead of his shows at Dublin’s Sugar Club on Sunday and Monday next.
And then, there’s Kamasi Washington, the man behind what looks like the album of the year at this stage of the game unless someone somewhere (we’re looking at you Frank Ocean) comes up with a whopper over the next few weeks. When I talked to him a while back, it was clear that Washington was relishing how people were reacting to the album, but he also talked a lot about how the live experience had helped to expand the album’s width and depth. With no Irish shows on his debut European tour, it was off to Berlin’s Yaam venue to see Washington and band in action at the weekend.
It was quite a spectacle, Washington and his band of super-trooper musicians – two drummers in the shape of Tony Austin and Thundercat’s brother Ronald Bruner Jr, vocalist Patrice Quinn, Ryan Porter on trombone, Washington’s da Rickey on flute, Miles Mosley on bass and Brandon Coleman on keys/piano – going for the jugular with some force. As “The Epic” shows, Washington is a man working up his own mojo, magic and moxie in the midst of shades and shadows of past glories. You can hear purrs of Pharaoh Sanders, Miles Davis, Archie Shepp and John Coltrane in how Washington and his band roll, but they also bring an abundant sense of sass, suss and swing to that wash.
Whether it’s recasting the fusion years as a tasty future funk/go-go wig-out or underlining and highlighting the delicate, graceful airs on the ode to Washington’s grandmother “Henrietta Our Hero” or just giving album highlight “Changing the Guard” a new lick of paint, this ensemble have serious skills which they’re happy to show off throughout. The fact that these players have also grown up together – Washington tells a yarn about Bruner Jr showing him up on the drums at his third birthday party – aids the lovely onstage communication.
But there’s also a serious belt of ambition throughout. Whatever about the musical chops he has built up over the years as a session and touring player, Washington is also very keen to make his music count in considerable style. Sure, the close ties between the band members means they coalesce into an exciting, soaring, powerful sound onstage, but there’s also a sense that the main man wants to push them even further, like the many band leaders who’ve gone to great lengths to pursue the sounds they can hear in their heads. This story is just beginning