Gilles Peterson comes on stage at the Barbican Hall to introduce Kamasi and the other players. His assertion that this is “the hottest ticket in town” was already discerned from tense anticipation filling the auditorium. Thankfully Peterson doesn’t gild the lily, and the LA–born saxophonist, dressed in a colourful one-piece and beanie, quickly takes to the stage along with fellow musicians. Before beginning, a collective moment of sombreness washes through the space as reflection is cast over Friday’s tragedies in Paris.
Playing material from The Epic (out on Flying Lotus’s label Brainfeeder earlier this year) they opened with ‘Askim’, an uptempo journey blending funky basslines and percussion with soulful saxophone. What strikes almost immediately is the instinctiveness all possess. As Washington later explains, the ensemble grew up in California, cutting their jazzy teeth together during their formative musical years. This, combined with their individual talents ensured there wasn’t a discernible slip–up through the entirety of performance, with special shouts to the drummers. Yep that’s right – plural. Two insane jazz drummers working in tandem, playing off each other with faultless precision. Listening was an honour.
An interpretation of ‘Clair de Lune’ was next, taking the original and reimagining it for today through a wistful combination of sax and trombone alongside protracted periods of improvisation, which proved to be a characterisation of the show in general. This was especially true when Kamasi introduced his father to the stage, who also happens to be an accomplished jazz flautist and soprano sax player. It was a touching moment, but importantly the impeccably high standards of performance were maintained.
Patrice Scott was a striking female presence on stage, and when ‘The Rhythm Changes’ and ‘Henrietta Our Hero’ played out, her vocals were scintillating. So too was Brandon Coleman, cutting manic around the stage and as he dashed between grand piano, keyboard and keytar. In truth, everyone had tricks up their sleeve. Another choice moment came from Miles Mosley’s transformative pedalling, turning his double bass into a cacophony of differing sounds.
The sheer quality of every element was overwhelming. This is why only now do I mention the excellent support act, GoGo Penguin. Methodical, minimalist jazz was matched by dance sequences choreographed by Lynne Page. It was a splendid warm-up, especially when the music and lifts occurred in aggregate. Together, the bands represented two very different strands of jazz full of vibrant potential. Long may Kamasi et al realise it with such gusto.