“I know it’s hot, but it feels good to me,” Kamasi Washington announced to a swelteringly hot Troxy, taking to the stage with his frenetic new single The Garden Path. Written about the disorientating shape of the world at present, its giddying mesh of rapidly unfurling brasslines and beefy funk rock beats sounded like barely-contained chaos as Washington’s trusty saxophone mingled with a repeating vocal mantra. “Bright minds with dark eyes/Speak loud words, tell sweet lies.”
Washington’s ability to harness a feeling and run with it atop kinetic jazz-meets-electronic-funk is something to behold. Perhaps that’s partly why the Los Angeles musician has emerged as one of the leading artists spearheading a fertile jazz revival that’s also set down roots in south London.
Maybe best known as the virtuoso behind the jazzy undercurrents that run through Kendrick Lamar’s soulful third record To Pimp A Butterfly, Washington’s most recent album Heaven and Earth also succeeded in knitting together the old-timey sounds of his genre of choice with the urgent politics of today. It also put his own spin on the high-octane sparring in his favourite Nintendo game with the grinding funk bass of Street Fighter Mas.
It’s no wonder he’s proved such huge inspiration to an entire crop of jazz collectives this side of the Atlantic – tonight’s co-headliners Ezra Collective (who soldiered on in the face of abysmal sound issues and inaudible instruments during their own set) among them.
Though far less severe, Washington’s set also had its own technical problems, with piercing screeches of microphone feedback proving an issue, and a delayed start time that forced swathes of the audience to leave halfway through amid ongoing train strikes.
At times, it was hard not to imagine the sprawling slopes of Crystal Palace Park – where this concert was originally supposed to take place as part of South Facing Festival – being drenched in fading golden sunlight and the finest nu-jazz going, without feeling a little short-changed by the replacement venue.
Production-related issues aside, though Washington himself was on relaxed, charismatic form – dedicating the beautiful Sun Kissed Child to his young daughter, and stepping back into the shadows to give each of his talented collaborators their time in the limelight elsewhere.
“One of my favourite things to do is share new music,” he said. Ahead of closing out with the potent Fight of Fury, he handed over the reins to his band members Allakoi Peete and Brandon Coleman (with Coleman performing his 2022 single Mutha Afrika, and Peete demonstrating his rap prowess).
Unshowy and generous, it felt perfectly suited to Washington’s deep love of collaboration, and provided a breath of fresh air where the show’s slightly mismatched new setting could not.