23rd May | O2 Academy

Thursday night was an unusual one for me in that I managed to get to a show just before the staff were opening the doors. As it turns out, it’s a great idea! Who’d have thought it? After posting up at a nice little perch, (complete with a table for the ludicrous two-pint cup my companion bought themselves) we were ready to enjoy the entire evening’s offerings; the main course being a two-hour set from modern jazz legend, Kamasi Washington.

First on the menu, however, was support from Oscar Jerome. I won’t lie; I was surprised by how comfortably each musician in his band occupied their own space within the songs, with a man like Kamasi Washington waiting in the wings. Each of them showed a very adept hand at their respective instruments without ever straying into that flashy territory which can be a pitfall of some young virtuosos.

Not long after Jerome and his band cleared the stage, Washington and his band (known as The Next Step) rather discreetly made their way on to it. All but the man himself and singer, Patrice Quinn looked like lost members of Public Enemy, complete with shades, berets, caps and badges. But the aforementioned two visually harked back more to the spiritual jazz era of Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane. 

Following a gentle yet rousing introduction song, Washington brought his father Ricky on stage to contribute his flute to the ensemble and introduced the bassist, Miles Mosley, telling us that we “haven’t seen anyone play the upright bass like this man.” I tend to be sceptical about these sort of remarks but what proceeded was nothing short of mind-bending. Playing one of his own compositions called ‘Abraham’, Mosley used his instrument and a wah pedal to plunge funkier depths than (I wager) have ever been explored in the O2 Academy. The rest of the band followed suit, turning the piece into an explosion of brass and percussion that left a bristling electric energy running through the entire evening. 

Patrice Quinn then led the charge through ‘Malcolm’s Theme’. Her extraordinary vocalisation of Ossie Davis’ eulogy for Malcolm X was a spine-tingling phenomenon to witness first-hand, which set the tone for Washington to discuss the themes of his 2017 EP Harmony of Difference. After making plain the parallels between the interweaving melodies and the “beautiful differences that make us one,” Washington took us into the EP in its entirety. Closing on the thirteen-minute-long ‘Truth’, in which he got to really show us why he’s the most recognisable man currently holding a saxophone, it was a journey that left one feeling changed (for the better) for having experienced it. 

Giving the other members of the band a rest for a few minutes following this emotionally taxing excursion, Washington let drummers Tony Austin and Robert Miller “have a conversation.” High up on their risers, the pair steadily built up to frighteningly visceral displays of gospel chops which, thankfully, never strayed far from an underlying groove.

The appreciation Washington held for the other members of his band was clear, introducing each with an idiosyncratic anecdote, inviting the audience into the community spirit that he has clearly fostered within this group of musicians. Keyboardist Brandon Coleman’s infectious smile whilst he played dazzling melodies and trombonist Ryan Porter feeling the need to say Washington’s name after a solo were all indicators of a band who know they’re part of something special.

A strong indicator of a memorable gig is the faces of the audience as they head for the doors at the end, and after closing with the colossal, gut-punching ‘Fists of Fury’, Kamasi Washington and his band left ear-to-ear smiles on everyone in Bristol who got to see them. 

See Kamasi Washington perform ‘Fists of Fury’ live on Later… with Jools Holland here: