#20. Kamasi Washington: The Epic
There are two reasons why The Epic is the only jazz album on this list. The first is because Kamasi Washington is a major crossover success. He keeps popping up in music circles outside of the jazz world, from his affiliation with Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label to the core role he played on Kendrick Lamar’s watershed album To Pimp A Butterfly. Thanks to the ubiquity of Lamar’s album and the surge of press that followed it (Billboard published a lengthy piece that shined a spotlight on Washington and a select few other Butterfly contributors), The Epic made its way to the ears of many critics who would otherwise not have heard it. There were plenty of other stellar jazz albums this year that just weren’t reviewed enough to make it onto a large aggregated list like this (Cecile McLorin Salvant’s “For One to Love,” for example).
The other reason why The Epic finds itself on this list is quite simply because it’s great. It’s a massive undertaking, and its three discs stand at almost three hours of run time. To provide some context, John Coltrane’s similarly dense A Love Supreme is only about thirty minutes long. Washington’s album is also much larger than Coltrane’s in its arrangements. The Epic features a core lineup of musicians that contains two drummers and two bass players (one of which is Thundercat, another crossover success who seems to be everywhere lately). Many of the songs also feature orchestral arrangements, complete with a full choir.
Washington’s west coast sound pulls heavily from post-bop influences, and echoes of John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and even Pharaoh Sanders can be heard in his heavyweight tenor playing. The arrangements provide plenty of room for him and his friends to play soaring, longwinded solos—no surprise, since he wrote and arranged the majority of the songs.
While the original compositions of the first two discs are exceptional, the album’s grand scope is best demonstrated on its third disc, subtitled The Historic Repetition. It features everything from the easy LA swing of the jazz standard “Cherokee,” to a rehashing of an album high point on “Re Run Home,” to an appropriately moonlit arrangement of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” The breadth of the album is immense. Washington’s magnum opus is nothing if not epic.