Most blog readers may be at the very least familiar with the name Kamasi Washington, considering that we covered his excellent 2015 debut record The Epic for the inaugural post in our Jazz Club series and have since seen him mentioned in several posts beyond that. 2017 has thus far seen him release “Truth”, a sprawling 13-minute single that traverses an unthinkable amount of musical ground, building up from a gentle piano line to an breathtakingly complex arrangement, guided all the while by the man’s absolute mastery of the saxophone.
In the midst of his solo work and active touring schedule, Washington has snuck in some time to record an album with collective Throttle Elevator Music, infusing what would otherwise be an instrumental rock album with furious jazz chops and soaring sax lines. Were we to remove the saxophone element, Throttle Elevator Music is, at its core, a traditionally electric guitar-driven rock band, almost evoking The Clash at times over any sort of jazz collective.
But the interplay between the rock elements and Washington’s lead lines are what make Retrorespective the album it is. All sorts of interesting combinations are explored across the nine tracks on offer: the sax alternating between a subtle call-and-response style in tandem with some quick lead guitar chops (“Second Liminality”), Washington’s ripping wicked lead heroics alongside Erik Jacobsen’s trumpet playing (“Retrospective”), or even gentle texturing over a quasi-punk rock bass riff (“February 15”).
Ultimately, Retrorespective feels like an examination of all the different ways a rock band can add in jazz instrumentation and create something interesting past the plain novelty of the idea. While the combination can admittedly feel a little strange at times, it definitely hits far more than it misses — and the sheer genius of Washington’s sax playing is more than enough to make for a stellar listen regardless.