10 New Artists You Need to Know: May 2015

Kyle, Kelsea Ballerini, Songhoy Blues and more

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Kamasi Washington
Mike Park10/10

Kamasi Washington

Sounds Like: Jazz fusion that rockets everywhere from electric Miles groove to Sun Ra sputter, from velvety smooth to hardcore squawk — and still sounds as future-minded as any hip-hop or experimental electronic LP out

For Fans of: Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Weather Report

Why You Should Pay Attention: The Los Angeles saxophonist is the most audacious player in a movement making the electric flurry of Seventies fusion jazz cool again: His lush, bustling arrangements can be heard on both Flying Lotus' You're Dead and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. His gorgeous debut opus, The Epic, is 173 minutes of virtuosic playing alongside a 20-piece choir, 32-piece orchestra and the West Coast Get Down, the eight-man jazz Wu-Tang Clan he's a member of alongside Thundercat. The group spent a month recording, working 10 to 12 hours a day, every day, resulting in, what Washington claims is eight individual solo projects, nearly 200 songs and two terabytes of music. The three-disc Epic, the first album released from the sessions, is 17 songs trimmed from 45. "The hardest part was shrinking it down," he says. "The 17 songs kind of became the complete sentence of what I wanted to put out. Any song that I take out, then I'm missing something."

Washington and the West Coast Get Down honed their connection with one another by practicing furiously in a shack in his dad's backyard in Inglewood, California. "We were at every concert and then we'd go home at 3 o'clock in the morning and play until 7 o'clock in the morning," remembers Washington. "I had cool neighbors. They knew me. They were just proud to see some young brothers doing something positive. Even though they were kind of mad like, 'Why are they up playing "Giant Steps" at 1,200 bpm for two hours from 3 to 5 o'clock in the morning?' We were just obsessed with the music, that's all we wanted to do."

He Says: "I think people were starved for it," says Washington of the sudden appeal of contemporary jazz. "And they had a misconception of what it was. We took it as a challenge. We played at like gothic clubs, literally, for a crowd where upstairs they have an apparatus where they're beating people with whips. . .That spiritual, soul-repairing thing that jazz has been missing in society for a while. People haven't had that fix. What fixes your spirit when Ferguson happens? When Trayvon Martin and those kind of things happen, they hurt your spirit, it hurts your heart and your soul. You need something to fix it. . .And now that they're getting it it's like, 'Oh wow, this is soul fix, not a history lesson.'"

Hear for Yourself: Disc three of The Epic kicks off with the blazing, funky 14-minute piece "Re Run Home." Christopher R. Weingarten