REVIEW: Harmony of Difference

Kamasi Washington's new jazz project is not just for jazz heads

Ian Harvey, Staff Reporter

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Even if you haven’t heard the name Kamasi Washington, you may have heard his horn. The Los Angeles based saxophonist has collaborated with the likes of Nas, Snoop Dogg and had a huge roll on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

His last project, The Epic, was a nearly three-hour long free jazz-inspired masterpiece of an album that included ten horns, a 20 piece orchestra and a 21 piece choir. But his new EP, Harmony of Difference is a different animal.

Harmony of Difference clocks in as 31 minutes and six tracks of smooth, soulful and spiritual sounds, much like The Epic but this time, it feels more direct to the point. All the tracks, with exception of the final, “Truth” (which was released as a single earlier this year), are under five minutes. Washington maintains the incredible instrumentation from The Epic and the complex compositions and arrangements. He also makes use of Hammond organs, strings and all sorts of synthesizers to create his unique spiritual sound.

This album also contributes to the personal message that Washington expressed in The Epic, but this time, it echos one of social unity and reflects the divisive times that we live in. The album aims to bring people together through their differences.

Washington told the LA Times, “in general in L.A., there’s a movement of sincere music that’s just people expressing who they are. That’s what I got from Kendrick when I went to hear his album.” That idea is still very true for Harmony of Difference. The album isn’t trying to sell records or top charts, it’s simply meant for the enjoyment of artists and listeners and for the creative expression of the artists.

By far the most exciting and multi-layered track on the album is “Truth,” which spans about 13 minutes and is a journey in itself. The track opens with a piano vamping two chords as the guitar quickly echoes them in the background. The melody played by the guitar is the same as that played by the horns in the first track “Desire.” Towards the middle of  “Truth,” the vocals gain intensity and slowly fade away, but only to rise back up in the end, both in tempo and in energy. The track itself is a perfect way to end the album as it acts as an accumulation of every track on the album into one song, which is probably why it was released as a single first.

My only gripe with this album, is that it sometimes feels a little overwhelming and overproduced. With the choir, keyboards, horns and rhythm section all playing complex rhythms and melodies at the same time, it gets a bit much for some. But that’s not to say that it’s inaccessible. All the tracks on the album feel incredibly groovy, familiar and comfortable, even if you’re not into jazz-fusion.

So, if you’re not acquainted with Kamasi Washington or jazz fusion in general, this might be a good album to start with. There is nothing overly pretentious or complex about it, and that makes it even more accessible and defies the stereotypes that many think about jazz.  In only 31 minutes, Washington creates an insane amount of material that will take multiple listens to fully digest, but it’s worth it. “Harmony of Difference” is Kamasi Washington’s next step in defying what we traditionally see as jazz, and his social relevance helps him bring jazz to a bigger and younger audience.

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