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When Heaven and Earth Change Places

Kamasi Washington's Heaven and Earth weighs in at Six on Jason's LPs of the year

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by Jason Lewis, UK Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: January, 2019
a magnificent achievement... and that's before you've found the hidden EP!

6. Heaven and Earth - Kamasi Washington (Young Turks)

There is an album in our top ten that is less than twenty minutes long ('B.E.D' at number eight). On that album, the artist had a story to tell and, with very few musical trimmings, they tell it. If it were a book, it would be a slim novella that you would consume in one sitting, a tale that you may return to again and again. 

If saxophonist, arranger, producer and conductor Kamasi Washington's latest release were a book, it would be two hefty volumes, one called 'Heaven' and the other called 'Earth'   it's more than two hours longer than the 'slim novella' that I mentioned previously.  Like a literary classic, it may take a while to fully comprehend, there are sections that are initially impenetrable (the lengthy keyboard section on 'Can You Hear Him', the improvised saxaphone solo that dominates the Latin Jazz of 'Hub-Tones').  A long time may pass before all of it's intricacies and diversions to fall into place, when it does though, you will realise that 'Heaven and Earth' is a masterpiece. 

The album is split into two sections, the first (Earth) represents the world as Kamasi sees it '...outwardly, the world I am part of', the second (Heaven) is the opposite '...the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me.' The album opens with a bewildering reinterpretation of the theme from the early 70's Bruce Lee movie 'Fists of Fury' to which Dwight Trible and Patrice Quinn add the defiant vocal “Our time as victims is over / We will to longer ask for justice.”  It is an arresting start to a powerful record. 

Washington’s isn't just a revivalist with a stack of old Jazz classics, he infuses all that he has known with the funk and hip hop that is evident on his work with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. The jazz funk of 'Street Fighter Mas' takes a Herbie Hancock like squelchy analogue keyboards and adds a spiritual choir. It's one of the albums most uplifting moments. 

There are also gentle moods on 'Heaven and Earth'. 'Testify' is an adorable love song and 'Connections' melts with the divine chorus and elegant strings. 'The Space Travellers Lullaby' that opens the second disc is like a swooning film score (more strings, more choirs), a journey through the cosmos that dissolves into a delicate sax solo from Washington. It is a glorious ride. 

'Heaven and Earth' is a magnificent achievement (and that's before you've found the hidden EP and had your heart broken by the ten minute version of 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' ). Washington's unrivalled musical versatility and imagination has allowed him to create an album that contemplates the infinite whilst remaining firmly on earth. It is an extraordinary record.

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Jason Lewis
UK Music Editor

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.

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