kamasi washington - heaven and earth

Kamasi Washington: Heaven and Earth (2018)

Day 11 of the #mayvinylchallenge is the Best Total Package, and the fact is that in my relatively brief time collecting vinyl (about three years) I never purchased any box sets. It’s only recently that I started focusing on new vinyl at all; most of my vinyl was purchased used. So I’ll twist this a little bit to talk about the wonder I experienced with Heaven and Earth, the massive multi-record set from jazz saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington. Beautiful packaging, and a sweet surprise I never would have known about hidden in the seams.

Let’s start with the music. It’s almost a case of bait and switch when you first hear the opening track “Fists of Fury,” which takes the theme to the Bruce Lee film and smashes it as a 70s groove-based cinematic score. From there the album mainly sticks to more straight ahead jazz, with some detours into more avant garde territory like the free jazz freak of “The Invincible Youth” or the 1-2 punch of the final two tracks, “Show Ys the Way” sliding into “Will You Sing.” Washington has a murderer’s row of talent across the tracks, including Thundercat (just mentioned the other day) and keyboardist Cameron Graves.

But this also gets to a small problem with Heaven and Earth: very good and digestible in chunks, but running through the entire four-record sequence (five when you include the “hidden” record) reveals some of the problems: not enough differentiation, and not enough left turns like the aforementioned “Fists of Fury” to really hold me the album’s 3-hour run time.

About that “hidden” album: probably my biggest delight with Heaven and Earth was hearing about a hidden fifth record called “The Choice” trapped in the seams of the packaging. Nothing earth shattering in the music, more of the same super-solid jazz Washington has been pushing forward and blending with genres.

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