Harmony of Difference
Twenty Nine albums. Songs of love and hate, broken societies, broken promises and broken hearts, as well as grief, bitterness, anger and melancholy.
The music on the albums that we've covered so far has originated from nearly every continent on the planet, the lyrics sung in different languages but all of them having a truth that is unmistakable and universal. You can feel the anguish of Saz Iso's tale of a shepherd whose flock has been stolen by bandits as much as you can relate to the indiscreet erotic confessions of Cigarettes After Sex. Maybe more so.
But, after all of these intense issues, you're probably eager for a happy ending. Something that acknowledges that the world is far from perfect but offers something akin to a big screaming message of HOPE to it.
And there is a happy ending. An immense, cinematic, glorious happy ending.
Kamasi Washington's last album, 'The Epic' was nearly three hours in length, an astonishing reinterpretation of what we understand of jazz. As a saxophonist, Kamasi had worked with Thundercat and Flying Lotus and, most significantly, helped to compose Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly.' No one thought that comparisons to John Coltrane were undeserved, Wasshington is a revolutionary.
'Harmony of Difference' is a mere 31 minutes in length (it's described as an EP, but it's longer than one of the albums in the Outsideleft top five), but the amount of musical themes and inventiveness that is brings together in such a short space of time is more exciting than anything else that was released during 2017.
The music on 'Harmony of Difference' was premiered at an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art last year, alongside a film by A.G. Rojas (see below), and paintings by Kamasi’s sister, Amani.
The six pieces of music and the six paintings all have the same names ( Desire, Humility, Knowledge, Perspective,Integrity and Truth). The sixth piece in both series brought together themes from all of the earlier pieces. And then some.
Harmony of Difference explores the musical technique of 'counterpoint' to show how forces that seem to be working in opposition can be brought together to create something brilliant, something beautiful. A place where harmony can be found through all that is different. A musical vision for a better society.
So, whereas opener Desire is a shuffling sax number, Humility bursts with energy and mixes furious horns with an exceptional jazz piano solo. Knowledge is a sweet relief before the sexy funkiness of Perspective and the delightful calypso of Integrity. And then...
Truth is heavenly. Not only does it bring together themes from the previous numbers but each musician plays with every last ounce of energy within them. And the strings and the choir bind the whole delirious spectacle together.
This is music that can elevate you, that can reach inside you, change you and fill you with hope.
In a year that produced so much great, challenging and amazing music, Harmony of Difference stood way out in front. A classic.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.