• Review

REVIEW: Kamasi Washington at Ludlow Garage

Photo Cred: Jon Calderas

Since its conception in the late 1960s, the Ludlow Garage has been home to some of Cincinnati’s most historic shows and the world's most famous artists. As you walk through the pub past the old stage, and down the steps to the cellar where the venue now hosts artists you can see its history. The bar has recreated and blown up signatures from some of the venue's biggest guests. Neil Young, Iggy Pop, MC5, Taj Mahal, and most famously the original lineup of the Allman Brothers, to name a few.

The little club tucked away on Ludlow Ave, in Clifton, has continued to be one of the premiere venues for rising acts, under-appreciated legends, and deeply intimate shows. Wednesday evening was no different as L.A.-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington brought his jazz-hip-hop fusion to an intimate, packed-out show.

I first heard of Kamasi Washington, as many of his fans did, from his work on the monumental Kendrick Lamar album To Pimp a Butterfly. The album was both a commercial and critical success garnering Lamar praise in part for his use of live musicians that blended the sounds of 70’s R&B, Funk, and post-Birth of Cool, jazz.

It was on tracks like “For Free?” that Washington’s influence truly blew me away. His sax comes humming into a crescendo that blasts you in the eardrums as the chorus of other musicians join in.

Washington’s form of jazz is deeply rooted in styles that put much of New York MC’s on the map. Producers and artists like Q-Tip, J Dilla, and The Alchemist used their crate-digging skills to find some of the most iconic sounds in jazz.

Since the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, in 2015 and Washington’s debut record The Epic, Washington has released three more studio albums that expand on his world of cosmic-jazz. The push-and-pull of classic jazz influences mixed with the more experimental side funk and acid-jazz is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ work in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, post Bitches Brew.

Once Washington took the stage, there was no mistaking the uber talent that he had brought along with him. DJ Battlecat being one of the many highlights from the show. His multi-instrumentation gave your average jazz-ensemble performance elements of hip-hop and West Coast funk, that are a staple of Washington’s work.

As a fan of jazz, the show followed the classic format of a proper jazz performance. Highlighting each member of the band and allowing them to shine throughout. Although Washington is an undeniable force on the saxophone when playing, it felt that he was as much in awe of the talent around him on stage. Often taking long breaks to allow the other members on stage to shine and that they did.

From bassist Miles Mosley, who’s work on the upright bass challenges all conventions of what a bass can do, to keyboardist Brandon Coleman’s intricate song structure on songs like “Interstellar Peace (The Last Stance).” That song in particular sent audience members into a transcendental state that showcased the group's ability to blend all types of ideas and sounds throughout a two-hour performance.

The highlights of the show however came during DJ Battlecat’s performance of “Get Lit” that featured a recording of funk legend George Clinton and one of Washington’s favorite new MC’s D Smoke. Again, bucking traditions of a jazz performance asking audience members to get up and dance.

My personal favorite performance came during the band's cover of “Computer Love” by Dayton funk legends Zapp. A beautiful and fun homage to one of funk's more underappreciated artists.

As the show came to an end Washington, like he does on his new record Fearless Movement, ended the performance with “Prologue” a song that demands your attention. With Washington leading the way on much of the song, it evokes a feeling of new beginnings and hope. The song is meant to be that, Washington told audience members that this song was written as a way to embrace what we now a culture we need to do which is progress. However, we struggle with the idea of letting go of the past, even though we know it’s what we must do.

“The beginning of something new, usually means the end of something old,” said Washington. Which of course can be applied to so much of the state we live in, however it is a message of hope and peace that Washington conveys throughout his music. A sentiment that harkens back to the days of the Beatnik movement in Jazz, all the way to today and of course is a main message of the work I first heard him on with To Pimp a Butterfly.

After a standing ovation from the audience you could see Washington staying on stage to greet fans and talk. Giving fans that unique and intimate experience both the legendary venue offers and the vibe that Washington is clearly going for on this tour.

Kamasi Washington is still on his Fearless Movement tour and you can listen to him wherever you stream music from.

Kamasi Washington

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