Last time I saw Kamasi Washington, he impressed me so thoroughly that I couldn’t decide whether or not to pick up tickets for his show at the Palace last night. If you look at it one way, Washington’s set at Rock the Garden was a superlative moment – a once-in-a-lifetime, bright-sunshiney storm of drums, horns, and voices. But I couldn’t pass up the slim chance he’d replicate it. So five months after watching him at the Walker, I scooted into the Palace Theatre awaiting Washington and his band. And you know? I’m glad I went.
Washington and his band – Miles Mosley on upright bass, Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums, Tony Austin on drums, Brandon Coleman on keyboards/vocals, Patrice Quinn on vocals, and Ryan Porter on trombone – are touring behind 2018 album Heaven and Earth, a two-and-a-half hour extravagaza of funky, cosmic jazz. (That run time is before you get to bonus disc The Choice.) At the Palace, they performed to a modest but fired-up crowd, trading solos for applause and whoops.
Every band member adds something to the show, but Patrice Quinn stood out right away. When she wasn’t singing, she kicked her heeled boots and shimmied. She often spread her arms toward the rafters or made prayer hands, rejoicing while her bandmates played. And when she was singing, her tawny voice stayed under complete control. While introducing “Testify,” a Heaven and Earth track with lyrics Quinn wrote, Washington called her “one of [his] favorite collaborators.”
Keyboardist Brandon Coleman also made an impression, getting creative with instrumentation. He served up Stevie Wonder clavinet on “Fists Of Fury” and used effects to bend his singing voice toward the sound of a guitar squeal. This year, he released his own album, Resistance, which features Quinn on a song Coleman wrote for Washington’s band: “Giant Feelings.”
Washington himself not only wailed on the sax but also engaged the crowd between songs. He told an adorable story about meeting his trombonist, Ryan Porter, at 12 years old; after hearing Porter play, he figured the musician must be a wizened old man. “He fought in World War II!” Washington remembered thinking. But as it turned out, he and Porter were the same age, and they’ve now performed together for years.
All together, Washington and his band performed few songs (I counted six, but I may have missed one early on). Their set lasted over an hour and a half – no encore necessary after the bracing “Fists of Fury.” What their set list lacked in numbers they made up in nourishment; I felt like each song was a full REM cycle compared to the snooze-button naps of pop and rock songs. Washington will knock you out until one moment, you find yourself breathing in, refreshed and coming out of a daze.
Butcher Brown opened the show with a nice jazz set. The Virginia five-piece brought impressive electric guitar and a whole lot of cymbal wash to the Palace stage.
Photos by Emmet Kowler: