Album Review: “Harmony of Difference”

EDUARDO PADRINO | ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST

Kamasi Washington first came under the spotlight of the jazz industry in early 2015. His collaboration in the production of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and the release of his outstanding debut “The Epic” have credited the American saxophonist as “the man who made jazz cool again.” After an extensive tour that covered large parts of the U.S. and Europe, Washington and his crew released a new single along with an accompanying music video for the “Harmony of Difference – EP.”

Where “The Epic” may seem directionless to some, “Harmony of Difference” uses a gentler and more concise approach to create an intimate interaction between listeners and performers. The opener “Desire” is a ballad that pays tribute to the Latin jazz rhythms that were made popular in the 60s and 70s but still manages to keep Kamasi’s approach to modern grooves. The song smoothly transitions into “Humility,” a hard-hitting, bop-influenced song with some of the most virtuous and catchy instrumental performances in the track listing.

What’s so great about this EP is that each individual track flows together nicely with the rest. Like the work of a master chef, all the ingredients complement each other so well that “Harmony of Difference” keeps the ears and the mind engaged from start to finish without missing out on any musical flavor. On the downside, the appearance of motifs during a short playing time may seem a little redundant (only 31 minutes), but I believe this approach is a refreshing change of gears compared to the extensive 3-hour length of “The Epic.”

Each song builds up the atmosphere and the moody feel of the record into the grand finale “Truth.” As the promotional single for the EP, “Truth” is a slight flashback to “The Epic”’s grandeur, bringing a choir and a string section back into the mix alongside the instruments we expect to hear in a traditional jazz band. Kamasi’s playing is extraordinary in this song; from his flashy licks to his signature “I’m gonna blow up my sax” moments, “Truth” is one of those songs that will give you goosebumps on the first listen, making it the perfect closer to “Harmony of Difference.”

Aside from the masterful craft behind these pieces, it is also important to note Washington’s most overlooked talent: social timing. “The Epic” was released at the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015, becoming a social critique with lyrics related to peace, love and equality. Like its predecessor, “Harmony of Difference” emphasizes the importance of these values in a time of racial tensions in the U.S. This EP is not only an exceptional release, it is also a social statement regarding the embracing of diversity and the harmony created when our differences come together in a welcoming society.

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