Kamasi Washington Goes Big At Hollywood Bowl With Help From Kirk Hammett & Robert Trujillo (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

 The prolific saxophone player, composer, and awe-inspiring bandleader Kamasi Washington continues his growth as a musical shapeshifter and artist.  Washington has brilliantly accomplished the difficult task of crossing genres – his music is unquestionably rooted in traditional jazz, but there are noticeable influences from African rhythms, rock, hip-hop, soul and classical music. Audiences that favor each of those styles have embraced the band’s hypnotic sounds at shows and festivals around the world.

He attributes the beginning of “the movement” to his bass-playing bandmate and fellow former UCLA ethnomusicology student Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. Thundercat came to prominence on his own with the band Suicidal Tendencies and both artists were also prominently featured on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 release To Pimp a Butterfly. Washington formed his band with Thundercat, DJ Battlecat, his flute-and-saxophone playing father Rickey Washington, and several other talented musicians.

Thundercat

At a nearly sold-out Hollywood Bowl concerton July 18th, the audience enjoyed a pristine summer night of Washington’s distinctive music. The band that he brought to the Hollywood Bowl featured 15 multi-faceted musicians, plus several surprise guests.

Washington has received critical praise and an assortment of awards, as well as Grammy and Emmy nominations. For many in the Hollywood Bowl crowd, it was their first live show since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington acknowledged the significance of the moment as he said it was the band’s first performance in front of an audience in over a year and that he was thrilled that everyone came to the show in his hometown.

The new first song, “Drive,”  was performed here for the first time and it featured the intricate rhythms provided by the double bass, double drum, and double percussion sections of the band. Washington played a lengthy and complicated solo that foreshadowed the entire show. “Truth” followed and Washington explained that the song is very meaningful to him as political strife and the inaccuracy of the dissemination of information has made it difficult for people to uncover the truth.

“Re Run,” a song from the band’s 2015 major label debut The Epic prominently featured Thundercat and DJ Battlecat, who traded licks while the rest of the band watched. The next song, “Sun Kissed Child” is the new single on their EP “Liberated” and singers Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible received the spotlight with beautiful vocals while Rickey Washington played an intricate flute solo.

Dwight Trible and Patrice Quinn

Soon to follow, Washington talked about the things he worked on during the pandemic downtime. He described forming a separate band called Dinner Party with fellow saxophone player Terrace Martin, whom he then brought out to the stage. Martin spoke about the recent political and racial unrest in the United States and around the world. He also discussed how hip-hop artists have always used their words to capture the feelings of the disenfranchised and then introduced three Los Angeles area MCs. Those three rapped the lyrics to Martin’s protest song “Pig Feet” while the band played the music. Each of the MCs rapped some lyrics and eventually, Martin and Washington traded amazing sax solos. 

Once the guests left the stage, the band played “Announcement,” a song that Washington wrote for the Michelle Obama Netflix documentary Becoming, and then talked about another special project involving Metallica’s The Black Album, which was released 30 years ago. The band asked several prominent artists across the musical spectrum to record covers of their songs for a special release due September 30, 2021, called The Metallica Blacklist.

Washington chose to record “My Friend of Misery” for the LP and before his band launched into the song, he invited Metallica’s bassist Robert Trujillo and guitarist Kirk Hammett to join the band, to the crowd’s delight. This new version of the song was a sonic explosion as the now 17-piece band blasted through the track. Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible handled the vocals while Trujillo, Hammett and Washington played off each other with incredible solos.

The show closed with the call-to-action song “Fists of Fury”  from the 2018 double album Heaven and Earth. Quinn and Trible sang and recited the lyrics that support physical violence as a way to fight injustice; the song increases in its sonic intensity, briefly calms and culminates with an explosively shrieking Washington solo. 

DJ Battlecat

Washington’s unique talent, social awareness, and activism along with his exceptional playing is supported by several comparably gifted musicians whose playing is not easy to characterize and never squeezes into any preconceived mold. The compositions are packed with political and social commentary that forces the audience to pay attention while riding a sonically emotional roller coaster.

Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2021.

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