KAMASI WASHINGTON | Hong Kong, HK Baptist University, Academic Community Hall

A standing ovation at the Hong Kong debut for the Los Angeles-born, contemporary jazz tenor saxophonist. Washington’s compositions are often sweeping, orchestral and choral epics, evoking 1970s cinematic-sounding Afro-Futurism; not exactly practical for touring around the world. Nonetheless, Washington’s accompanying band of seven musicians (including his dad, Rickey Washington, on soprano saxophone, and two drummers, Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin) make an amazing sound together.

Washington’s prowess as a composer and arranger is what defines his music, but he is also a remarkable soloist. Washington usually prefers to elicit a breathy tone, and also uses echoing effects pedals to build walls of sound. A couple of fully unaccompanied closing cadenzas show his emphasis on simple, tuneful phrases, over flashy runs.

His acoustic double bassist, Miles Mosely, plays like no one else. Flipping like crazy between wah pedal, distortion effects, plucking, bowing, double stopping and even strumming, Mosely’s solos brought the house down. The genius of his keyboardist Masayuki “Big Yuki” Hirano lies in subtly pushing the harmonic envelope, even when just vamping on one chord. His virtuosic, classical style solo in “Will You Sing” drove the crowd wild.

Patricia Quinn lent her wildly soulful, raspy vocals to “Forever Changes” and “Fists of Fury” the latter which closed the show, shouting out again and again, “Our time as victims is over: we will no longer ask for justice — instead we will take our retribution!” The resonances with the Hong Kong audience were too powerful for words.

Kamasi Washington is currently on a world tour, until January 2020.

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