Harmony of Difference EP
Kamasi Washington follows up 2015’s heavyweight statement The Epic with Harmony of Difference – a shorter EP with more levity for our troubled times. Although the release is billed as an EP, it’s really almost a mini-album at 32 minutes. In any case, it’s much shorter than triple LP The Epic, with most of that album’s tracks clocking in over the 10 minute mark and nearly reaching 3 hours in total playing length.
The EP is more relaxed in style, with a less-hyped agenda this time. The album has two halves: the first is a series of five short tracks, and the second consists of emotional closer Truth, with a more typical Washington length of over 13 minutes. The shorter tracks are almost ‘jazz lite’ contributions, with generally upbeat moods. They travel by fairly quickly, with little more than a presentation of a theme and different arrangements before it’s on to the next track. This has the effect of showcasing Washington’s compositions, as the multiple solos and musical diversions don’t have time to develop on these short tracks.
As with The Epic, the music laid down on Harmony of Difference shines with some great playing by the whole band. Notable in the line up are bassist Thundercat (previous gigs with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar and a successful solo artist), Igmar Thomas on trumpet and Cameron Graves on piano (the solo on Humility being a high point). The musicians together feel more like a true band than just someone’s solo project, with each instrument allowed plenty of room to improvise and to showcase some tasty playing. The recording is excellent as well, with a live feel with the instruments shining through clearly.
Pacey tracks Humility and Integrity are fun numbers, with Knowledge a swinging be-bop track that gets the toes tappin’. Integrity showcases some nice Brazil-like brass melodies and relaxed solos all along to a South American-style percussion style. Jazz done in a pop format almost.
Slower tracks also feature. Perspective is the sappiest track on the EP, bordering on music for lobbies, but saved by a pick up of the tempo and a virtuosic solo. The playing is fine, of course, but this is really not the sounds most new fans are pursuing with Washington’s music; they’d generally prefer John Coltrane to Joshua Redman, for example.
Long closing track Truth starts with a slow melodic introduction, first heard in opening track Desire. The tune builds and builds, eventually adding swelling strings and a chorus, then plateaus to find some relative peace with another fine extended solo by Washington before ending with a rousing return of the strings and chorus for the outro. An ambitious piece that lets the band and Washington finally stretch their legs after the relative containment of the previous tracks. The ‘uplifting’ elements can tend to overstay their welcome in parts, but hey – in these downer-esque times, maybe Truth will set you free? In any case, the tune, drive and solos in the track make for an enjoyable excursion.
Harmony of Difference is a decent, mellow, modern jazz EP. A more relaxed feel means it could be a good introduction to jazz for modern listeners, bearing in mind there’s usually a bit more depth on offer in The Epic. Fans of the latter may have to continue to wait, however, for the next proper LP by Washington to return to the large-scale cosmos he previously created, although Harmony provides some nice moments on its own terms.