Review Summary: Never before has an album title been so fitting.
Have you ever been intimidated by an album? Whether it’s because it’s an unfamiliar genre, immense hype, or simply too much content to fully digest, occasionally we might ask ourselves, “Is this really for me?” All of these dilemmas I faced prior to listening to Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. Not only was my extent of Jazz experience limited to the bare essentials, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and a few others, but a 3 hour album felt like a marathon effort for me. However, even with all these factors, I honestly have never felt more welcomed by a piece of music as I have with this one.
Whether it’s because the close roots to the early greats, the more traditional jazz instrument choice (saxophone, drums, bass, piano, strings), or just the combination of it all, The Epic is surprisingly accessible. However, accessible doesn't always mean simple. Many of the arrangements here are incredibly complex pieces, hence the majority of the tracks passing the 10 minute mark. Tracks like the grand opener “Change Of The Guard” or “Seven Prayers” are able to gracefully ease from a generally relaxed, smooth pace to a frantically emotional build up to its climax, only to come back from the stratosphere, bringing the calm after the storm.
What makes this album such an interesting listen is the superb instrumentation on this record. The interplay of all the instruments is an absolute wonder to listen to. You can tell that the musicians have a certain chemistry that have them playing in harmony, truly bringing the music to life. The drums, bass guitars, and strings stand as the skeleton of the album, keeping a playfully bouncy pace throughout the record. However, what is a skeleton without its flesh? Enter Washington and others who show off their musical prowess in solos that are a sight to behold. Each instrument gets a chance to shine; everything from the pianos(“Change Of The Guard”, “Isabelle”) to the bass (“Askim”), to the horns(“The Magnificent 7”) to the funky guitars(“Re Run Home”) all bring their A game in their respective solos. There are even some guest female vocals on the non-instrumental tracks that are enjoyably smooth and sweet, if not a little overacted. Even with all these things going on, Washington is still able to stand out on his own record, as the saxophone is truly the album’s star. Not only do all his solos trump the others, but he does a spectacular job of leading the melodies on almost every track. Whether he’s bringing a soothing, sensual vibe to the track or reaching emotional intensities with his saxophones’ earth-shattering screeches, Washington is the ringleader of this jazzy circus.
This may be a hard listen for some, as the length of this album may intimidate some people. 3 hours is quite a long time for an album to have your complete attention. But the lack of filler is able to pull off this feat. However, while this album will keep you on your toes, it personally felt like a bit of a draining listen when taken in one go, especially with most of the tracks being mammoths. Since this is a triple album and not just one beast, I found it much more rewarding taking it one part at a time. Some people may find it a bit odd not to listen the album all at once. But it won’t seem as weird once you listen to each part individually, as each part easily stands strong on its own, something that any double/triple album should be proud of. While I could go on and on about how the length of this album affects the music, the experience, and all that, I feel that the one word that captures the essence of this album, flaws and all, is the album title itself: epic.