Kamasi Washington: The Rhythm Changes
A virtuosic performance from the jazz musician and Kendrick Lamar’s cosmic collaborator
Captured by veteran Los Angeles hip-hop photographer and filmmaker B+ (aka Brian Cross), known for his seminal portraits of, and record covers for, luminaries such as Eazy-E, DJ Shadow, Biggie, and The Fugees, Kamasi Washington is one of his generation’s foremost jazz giants. A player, composer and bandleader, the 32-year-old’s aptly named three-volume album The Epic follows his acclaimed arrangements for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Flying Lotus’s You’re Dead! In a director’s statement, B+ discusses the time he spent with Washington and his band, and the show he filmed celebrating The Epic’s release at the famed Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
“It is a profound need we’ve all had to celebrate the exquisite loving that black American music is”
“I first saw Kamasi Washington play with many of these same musicians in Leimert Park in the early two thousands. I remember thinking Kamasi was a young Cannonball Adderley – open, charismatic and in full flight already on his instrument. I had the distinct feeling that the future of jazz was safe.
“On May 4th this year at The Regent Theatre in downtown, Kamasi put 1,200 L.A. heads of all generations, races and beliefs in the same room on a Monday night paying $40 a head to see four hours of jazz. Yes, four hours. Yes, a Monday night. After the second set, (there were three) I told the poet Kamau Daaood: ‘My chest feels so full, man, my heart is beating bigger…’ Ethnomusicologist Josh Kuhn asked me, ‘What is this man? This just can’t be the [effect of the] Kendrick thing…’
“I’ve spent the past few months trying to answer this question. Somehow it is Kendrick, it is Los Angeles, it is Kamasi and his ability to bring people together – the fact that these musicians built their own audience in LA over the past ten years; but it is also a profound need I think we’ve all had to celebrate the exquisite loving that black American music is. In a moment populated by dead black men’s bodies (from Oscar Grant to Trayvon Martin, to Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and on and on every 28 hours), we needed to not look away, we needed to remember, we needed somehow to celebrate. This show and this music is that.” — B+ (Brian Cross)