Kamasi Washington Wants to Remain Unstoppable

Before Kamasi Washington unveiled his breakthrough opus, he admits, he second-guessed it.

“The Epic” (2015) was a major moment, not just for the Los Angeles saxophonist and composer, but for jazz at large. Arriving on the heels of Kendrick Lamar’s seismic “To Pimp a Butterfly” — an album featuring contributions from Washington and his tight-knit hometown coterie — it contained nearly three hours’ worth of surging, spiritually charged music, spearheaded by Washington’s roaring tenor sax. Despite its daunting scope and operatic grandeur, it resonated broadly, serving as a gateway to jazz and the thriving scene orbiting Washington’s label at the time, Brainfeeder.

But in the long interval between its recording — most of which took place in 2011 — and its release, Washington toyed with the idea of trimming it down to make it more palatable. “I had so much time, sitting on it for a good little minute, so I made edited versions,” he said with a sheepish laugh during a recent video interview from his Inglewood, Calif. home, sporting a black-and-gold striped knit hat and a flowing, floral-embroidered shirt. But, inspired in part by the boldness of “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and the way it further challenged Lamar’s audience following the rapper’s 2012 multiplatinum hit “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” he decided to honor his original vision, keeping “The Epic” epic.

“I’m just going to let it be what it is,” he recalled thinking at the time. “And I’m cool with whatever that does.”

Washington onstage in 2022. The saxophonist and his close collaborators have helped bring a thrilling West Coast jazz scene into the spotlight.Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

In the years since “The Epic,” that principle has continued to serve Washington well. His new album out May 3, “Fearless Movement,” includes high-profile guest spots from George Clinton, who sings on the woozy, grinding “Get Lit,” and André 3000, who contributes blissed-out flute textures to the relaxed jazz-funk excursion “Dream State.”

Overall, it finds Washington, 43, adhering to his longstanding vision, presenting sprawling, eclectic tracks — 12 in just shy of 90 minutes — that refute any notion of jazz as a cloistered musical zone and showcase the chemistry of his core musical crew, a decades-strong friend group that started taking shape in early childhood.

Back to top button