I’m glad this could be said. Washington’s impact on the jazz scene will be felt for years to come and the success of his colleagues should do wonders to highlight how decentralized the jazz scene has become. I know there’s a Bay Area and Chicago sound. I bet in coming years we’ll hear sounds from scenes well outside the current mainstream.
The rise of Los Angeles-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington was easily the biggest jazz story of the past 18 months. Following the release of his aptly titled three-disc recording, “The Epic” (Brainfeeder), he brought his exceptional live shows to venues across the country and spurred recordings by his associates that have updated jazz-funk, a hybrid style popular in the early ’70s and intermittently since. His ascent and his coattails have brought attention to the extremely fertile Los Angeles scene that is rapidly becoming an important jazz epicenter, and on the increased eclecticism among jazz musicians.
The 35-year-old tenor saxophonist performs in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 30 and 31, in San Francisco Jan. 6-8 and Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 12.
Mr. Washington plays a variant of the hybrid that is much heavier on the jazz part, but still very much rooted in the nascent funk of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The abundance of small percussion instruments, the addition of flutes and other sinuous instruments, and a more propulsive backbeat show the influence of such cornerstone discs as Pharoah Sanders’s 1969 recording “Karma” and Billy Harper’s 1973 album “Capra Black,” but it was Mr. Washington’s work on Kendrick Lamar’s superb 2015 hip-hop recording “To Pimp a Butterfly” (Interscope) that was his big break. When Mr. Washington’s debut recording was released a few months later, he became a
surprise crossover success. In the tours that followed, he played in large, sold-out venues to predominantly young audiences who were probably more familiar with J. Cole than John Coltrane, one of Mr. Washington’s most important influences.
Two of Mr. Washington’s colleagues—saxophonist/producer Terrace Martin and trumpeter Josef Leimberg—and MAST (a project by L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist Tim Conley) delivered stellar jazz-funk recordings this year. Mr. Martin, who also contributed to Mr. Lamar’s recording, released “Velvet Portraits” (Ropeadope), which has been nominated for a Grammy. His disc draws equally from the earthy grit of vintage R&B and the slow, relaxed grooves of such archetypal early jazz funk as Roy Ayers’s song “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” Mr.
Leimberg’s recording “Astral Progressions” (World Galaxy) is more atmospheric but heavy on virtuosic jazz solos from Mr. Washington and others. “Love and War” (Alpha Pup) from MAST adds another effective element to the mix, electronic dance music, and it offers an engaging panoply of sounds that are both of the moment and suggestive of a jazzier version of some early drum ’n’ bass from the late ’90s.
These are not the only L.A.-based artists making their way onto top-10 lists. “The New Breed” (International Artists) by guitarist Jeff Parker and “MONKestra Vol. 1” (Mack Avenue) by pianist John Beasley have also scored end-of-the-year accolades. The eclecticism displayed on these discs and many others of note this year highlight a growing trend toward ambitious experimentation and blends of jazz with other musical styles. Much of that vibrant activity took place in Los Angeles, a place not known, until recently, for its jazz scene.
—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.