Albums Under £5: Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)
Here’s another one that I’m not certain counts: Californian saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s great hunk of a triple album The Epic, going over the Ninja Tune website for five pounds exactly. I’m allowing it because of the value you’re getting for your money – The Epic comes up just short of three hours, setting you back just 2.9 pence for every minute. That’s over twice as cost-efficient as the washing machines in Carnatic, and you’re not paying for The Epic each week*. You should listen to this instead of washing your clothes, I guess is what I’m saying.
My frame of reference with jazz is frankly piss-poor, so I’m going to have a hard time explaining exactly why The Epic is so good. I suppose to start, there is not a minute on there that feels wasted. Washington and his band always feel like they’re using their time – from a purely technical perspective you could probably slice it up until it fit onto two CDs and still have something coherent, but I’d be a bastard to single out any individual passage as redundant because each one feels like there’s at least one person pouring talent and passion into it. Take The Next Step, near the end of the first disc – it’s the longest song on there, a few bars short of fifteen minutes, but it’s absorbing all the way through, surging and ebbing through solos and choral bursts before fading into an achingly quiet final stretch. You can hardly call it a lean album, but it’s all meat on the bite.
With this in mind, the main issue I’ve had listening to The Epic hasn’t been with patience but logistics – it’s a faff trying to find a chunk of your day long and clear enough for an end-to-end listen (though if you’re planning any all-nighters this deadline season, I can recommend little more appropriate). This is one place where the digital format falls down – the album’s far less overwhelming split into three chunks like it is on the physical version. If your schedule has the better of you and you’d rather start with just one disc, my favourite was the second (titled The Glorious Tale), stretching from ‘Miss Understanding’ to ‘The Magnificent 7.’
I feel kind of bad suggesting that you listen to The Epic out of order, but I don’t really know how important the sequence of the songs is. I found out writing this that I’d ballsed up putting the album on my iPod and listened to it in the wrong order for the past year, so really this is as much a voyage of discovery for me as it is for you. I haven’t noticed any serious arc to the new order. The press release sets the scene with a story about a warrior waiting for his successor, but I’d be reaching to say that any song, even the one named after a line in the story, was specifically about that. There is, however, a logic to the album’s sequencing which makes the new order far more satisfying to listen through, and several of the songs sound a lot better in their new place – especially ‘Malcolm’s Theme‘, which is promoted from somewhere in the middle of the album to a more deserved spot at its triumphant climax, before the victory lap of ‘The Message.’
I worry that The Epic’s a hard sell, but it never feels like a heavy album. Washington and his band play with boundless skill and confidence, and there’s a sense of pride and joy to their music that makes it soar. There are albums a third the length which take twice the effort.
*A few other comparisons: Endtroducing was going down HMV this morning for 9.4 pence per minute, or 28.3ppm if you prefer vinyl. Sergeant Pepper’s was going for 25ppm, though the vinyl works out cheaper at ∞ppm thanks to its locked groove. At current exchange rates, hardcore rarity Chung King Can Suck It went for a remarkable 23,449ppm – about £3.90 per second – in an auction last year, whilst HDDN goes for an impressive 2.1ppm (I think this might just be because the pound’s so strong against the zloty at the moment though – I’m nowhere near enough of an expert to tell you how that might go after the Europe vote, but you should probably get in there whilst stability reigns).
Photo credit: deejay.de