Kamasi Washington – The Roundhouse, London

Wednesday 2nd May, 2018

I got very excited when I saw the line up for this years Cheltenham Jazz Festival as Kamasi was on it. Then I looked at the dates and travel and costs and realised I wouldn’t be able to get there. Gutted. But I figured if he’s in the country he may well be playing some other dates. I checked.London, Manchester and Glasgow. None of which are particularly near to Bristol! Still, its King Kamasi and you do not turn down the chance to hear him. Wednesday night in London I can do I thought. Last coach leaves 23.59  and gets in 2.20am, who needs sleep?

Ticket booked courtesy of Tom’s Roundhouse membership (thank you) and cheap train/coach tickets sorted, I began to believe I really would get to see one of the greatest living jazz saxophonists play live.

This was my second trip to The Roundhouse and I really hope it won’t be my last. They deserve high praise for the quality of their volunteers and staff, all of whom were welcoming and friendly. That’s rare in any venue, let alone a London one, so thank you. Even the security, which is pretty full on, did their job with a smile and some humour. Everyone gave good clear directions and the space was about as open as it could be. Thank you and well done to your team for making me feel relaxed and welcomed.

I was early and so got chatting with Adam and John in the queue. One of the legacies 40 gigs has left me with is the confidence to be myself, to embrace the obsessional quirks and connect with the other odd balls who travel to gigs every other day just because they can. It helped my find my tribe. Swapping gig tales and stories, recommending new bands to each other, music binds.

I’m not sure if their look was influenced by George Clinton or The Mighty Boosh but the support band looked and then sounded pretty weird. A trio, bass, drums and saxophone, looking like they’d made their costumes from blue Ikea bags, they made noise. Jazz noise. I’m sorry I can’t describe it much better, I’m still a newcomer to this genre. It may or may not have been improvised I’ve certainly never seen a bass player get his plastic tentacles stuck in his strings before. I found him mesmerizing. Even before he took of his mask to reveal his beautiful face. He was like an African God, cheek bones you could slice things on and lips, oh my, lips that could rival Prince. The Onyx Collective if you want to look them up. It was certainly an experience to hear them play.

Kamasi and his band. Well. A whole other kind of experience. One I am so grateful and pleased to have been a part of. Two drummers. You know you are in for a good time with 2 drummers. Add bass, trombone (which was orange and blue lustred metal, gorgeous it was), a singer wearing a white, fringed dress and silver boots in her own sound proof perspex box, keys, synths and a laptop. Plus Kamasi and his Dad. What more could you ask for? Not much. And if you did you’d just be being extra greedy.

The crowd roared like a very happy beast and the energy in the place was fantastic. It was by far the best atmosphere of any London gig I’ve been to.

Every single member of the band was superb. Kamasi keeps good company. They were a tight unit and watching them watch each other was just joy. The drummers dueled at one point, each trying to outplay the other with sheer speed and inventiveness. How they played different, competing, yet overlapping parts in each song without dominating, such skill. The bass. Now, I may be a tiny bit biased as it is my instrument (when I bother) but that boy could play. He also had the most amazing look. Part Black Panther circa ’68, part Black Panther Marvel Superhero. Cool, sexy and full of tight rhythms that held everything together. The keys! Funky, groovy and hip. They added so much depth and layering. Trombone and flute complimenting Kamasi’s sax, adding layer upon layer of brass. Lush, rich, gorgeous. I loved it. I could not stop smiling. This was music as pure, unadulterated joy. To simply stand and marvel at the sight and sound of this immensely talented group of musicians playing. Well I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

We were among the first to hear some of the tracks of the new album (due for release in June) and the reworking of Fists of Fury is anthemic. The vocal, delivered with passion, anger and yet understated, perfectly fitting our times. Never did I think I would hear jazz kung fu music and enjoy it, but I did. I bloody loved it.

There were also tracks from Harmony of Difference, which if you don’t own you must buy immediately. It is a work of sonic genius. Truth.

I first heard Kamasi on MaryAnn Hobbs’ show (yes, her again) and she calls him King Kamasi. It’s an entirely fitting accolade.

This was a fine, fine gig. Up there with the very best I have seen. If you get a chance to see Kamasi play, go. Even if it means catching late night coaches and getting very little sleep. You will not regret hearing masters play live.

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