It’s not everyday a performer with Kamasi Washington’s presence breezes into town. Since the release of his debut album two short years ago, he has toured far and wide, wowing audiences with his stellar live act. Almost a year ago to the day I was lucky enough to catch Kamasi playing to a whopping 6000 plus audience at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam. The sound was impeccable and it was topped only by the fact that his motley crew of precision jazz players were joined by the inimitable Metropole Orkest conducted by Jules Buckley. This 60 strong Dutch jazz orchestra and choir helped put the epic in The Epic, while Thundercat played second bass alongside Miles Mosley and Patrice Quinn’s album-perfect vocals brought moments of transcendental euphoria to a perfectly executed set.
It’s hard to live up to something like that, and tonight’s incarnation of Kamasi’s troupe is bite-sized in comparison. Mosley is nowhere to be seen, in fact, there is no bass to be heard at all for the first four or so minutes of the opening song, as stage technicians scramble from the eaves to rectify some issue with the panicked young bass player’s set up. Novertheless he plucks at the silent strings until eventually a murmured walking line emerges from the upright. Unfortunately this isn’t the only sonic setback this evening. The entire evening’s performance is marred by poor sound, with Patrice Quinn’s soprano all but lost to heavy EQing, an issue that also seems to translate to the stage as she is seen fiddling with her in-ear-monitors, never quite comfortable or reaching her potential during ‘Henrietta Our Hero’ or ‘The Rhythm Changes’.
Perhaps to make up for a smaller band, with a total of eight on stage, Kamasi has chosen to rework some of his tunes rhythmically and harmonically, with Brandon Coleman often adding impromptu keyboard licks and embellishments throughout. Sometimes it gets a little too off the cuff, with overlapping percussive hits causing more of a clamour than syncopation. Re Run is a highlight of the evening and probably the closest this ensemble comes to reaching the soulful depths of the recorded work, with Washington allowing himself to wander down the rabbit hole as the rest of the band drop out for a solo.
It seems that a lot of tonight’s audio problems stem from the fact that there are two drummers on stage. Not unusual for Kamasi, but for a venue like the National Concert Hall that was built to house acoustic performances, the sheer volume created is bound to have a knock-on effect with the overall mix. They’re not exactly the quietest drummers either. Slinky playing aside, either would probably be more suited to playing in a football stadium with Metallica rather than in this concert hall. Perhaps something for the programmers to consider going forward, but no reason to shy away from smaller jazz set ups.