Kamasi Washington Blazes Through New Music On Scorching Sacramento Night

Kamasi Washington
Crest Theater, Sacramento
June 5, 2024

Photos by Paul Piazza

Saxophone giant Kamasi Washington played Sacramento’s Crest Theater recently on an evening that at the time, had registered as the hottest day of the year thus far in the state capital.

The musician was touring on his recent album Fearless Movement and the Sacramento crowd was treated to a full run through of the album, albeit a little out of order. And all of that happened in a very good way, because we were all indoors with air conditioning as the band heated up the interior with world class chops. The band played an epic two and one half hour set.

Miles Mosely and Kamasi Washington

The new music, which Washington calls a “dance album,” isn’t necessarily what modern music fans consider dance music in the literal sense. It’s more about expression and evolution and following the groove. Over the arc of time, the greatest jazz artists have been on a quest to evolve with each new offering and Washington has continued that tradition by following his own path.

This time around, he is a new father in a post-pandemic world and making discoveries through his young daughter’s eyes. It gives his songwriting a more grounded, less interplanetary perspective.

Ricky Washington

Of course, the pandemic was a weird epoch for everyone, where time came to a standstill for many. But faced with the prospect of bringing new life into the world while everyone was staying at home, Washington pivoted in a new direction. He kept busy during that time and was part of an all-star ensemble that recorded the critically acclaimed Dinner Party EP in 2020. Featured on that album were fellow newer generation jazz titans Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, and DJ/producer/writer 9th Wonder.

In the meantime, Washington was working on ideas for Fearless Movement, which came from a variety of inspirations. He explained at the Crest that by the time his daughter was three, she had gotten into the habit of plucking away at a piano each morning. He mentioned that this had caused pure wonder in him. At the Crest, he joked that her start time with this was at 7AM each day. Not exactly musicians hours. But while listening to her, he picked up on a melody that she had plucked out and turned it into a song called “Asha the First.”

Kamasi Washington

He also gained inspiration from his elders on Fearless Movement. Washington invited George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic fame to join for a track fun tune called “Get Lit.” Also featured on this track is drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., whom Washington has been collaborating with since his days in the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department over twenty years ago.  In fact, Washington’s very first album Young Jazz Giants featured fellow ethnomusicology students pianist Cameron Graves, Bruner, and his brother Stephen, who is also known currently as the bassist Thundercat. All have gone on to have successes as renown musicians.

On the new album, Washington also collaborated with former rapper, now avant-garde jazz flutist, Andre 3000, on the track “Dream State.” But perhaps, one of the biggest treats on the new album is an interpretation of Zapp’s “Computer Love.” The song is expanded and contracted and taken to some new dimensions by Kamasi and the crew. On this night they stretched it over twenty minutes with twists and turns and solos that encapsulated all of the great things this band can do.

Crest Theater

Ricky Washington, Kamasi’s father and an amazing flutist, performs on stage to the right of him. Next to him is vocalist Patrice Quinn, who has long gifted this group with gorgeous, expressive vocals. Behind them is Myles Mosely on the contrabass. Mosley has made albums with Kendrick Lamar, Chris Cornell, and Jonathan Davis of Korn. Drummer Tony Austin has worked with Carlos Santana, Willow Smith, and Gwen Stefani. Keyboardist Brandon Coleman has worked with Shuggie Otis, Babyface, and Childish Gambino. Trombonist Ryan Porter records on his own, but has been a longstanding member of West Coast Get Down, which over time has featured many of the players in this band as well as the Bruner brothers and Washington.

Needless to say, on this night the stage was loaded with talent and the lengthy set felt like it would have stayed engaging if it kept going all night.

Thomas Molina of LabRats

Sacramento band LabRats made the most of being the opening act for Washington. The band is an agile jazz, hip-hop, and r&b quartet. They welcome a variety of guest vocalists on the stage at various intervals, when they aren’t busy cooking on an instrumental. They made the most of a brief, 35-minute opportunity and won over the crowd on this night. The band are part of musical movement in Sacramento that is starting to gain national attention.

Jacob Swedlow of LabRats

The Philharmonik, a a band the LabRats often collaborate with, recently won NPR’s Tiny Desk contest and the two groups have collaborated frequently. LabRats have made waves in 2024 by standing out as an opener for other national acts including Orgone and Punkadelik.