Heaven And Earth (Young Turks)
Being wary about claims to spirituality in particular records or particular artists is fair enough. One woman’s spirituality is another’s cockamamie amalgam of consciousness raising and cholesterol lowering; one man’s deep religious beliefs is another’s hodgepodge of ancient mansplaining and beard-in-the-sky stupidity.
It’s probably better, and certainly safer, to talk about emotion shifting or mood raising, hope-offering or support-providing, and let the devil (as it were) be in the detail of experience. So I won’t be arguing that Heaven And Earth is a profoundly spiritual album (though I won’t argue with you if you say it is); I’ll just say it moves the mind and soul in ways that are weighty and lasting and exist beyond jazz (its official home) to something musically multilingual.
“And every day a brand new start, hallelujah,” sings Patrice Quinn in Journey - one of several tracks with a lead vocal - and that is about right for the 16 tracks here. Though if you think this means some hippie idealism of “if we wish it, it will come” nature there’s plenty to disabuse you of that notion, not least the opening track, Fists Of Fury, which openly states “we will no longer ask for justice, instead we will take retribution”.
An extension of the title number from the soundtrack of Bruce Lee’s martial arts classic, Fists Of Fury eschews swagger and bluster, even with a powerful rising choir and progression from early ‘70s funk to a freer-flowing muscular rhythm, to feel like a counter argument not a counter strike. But with Quinn and Dwight Trible in unison, it still reminds you that “I use hands to help my fellow man/I use hands to do just what I can/And when I’m faced with unjust injury, then I change my hand/To fists of fury”.
Kamasi Washington’s stated aims with this almost-as-epic full album follow-up to his breakthrough album The Epic (with the Harmony Of Difference EP last year serving as a bridge between the sprawling splendour of the first and the more focused and driven second), were to (a) counterpoint the clusterfuck that is modern America with positivity about the potential for change, and (b) examine duality in ourselves and how we perceive and then take on the world – an understanding of which would make (a) easier.
In other words, if the problem is people, the solution is people too and where Heaven And Earth succeeds most spectacularly is in giving room for that optimism without having to explain it. There’s energy here, definitely, but that’s not the point. Instead it’s the way every track reaches a conclusion that is very human – multi-layered, not always certain but definitely looking out and up – after multiple exchanges of ideas that are built on people, not a celestial cure-all.
Even the choir moments aren’t religiously-based but more like a domestic gospel of common will and the surge of belief that comes from communal action. Show Us The Way, for example, is a kind of low burning beacon out of which Jamal Dean’s piano clears fresh ground to establish a springboard for genuinely fiery saxophone.
The distinctive large band around Washington’s tenor sax – multiple drums, thick beds of brass and wind, electric and upright bass, guitar – draws in strings, keyboards which sound fresh from a previously unpacked box of 1970s studio toys, and the chorus/choir. Together they are consistently exhilarating, buoyant in their interactions.
It’s rare to find relatively spare moments, though when you do, for example the early stages of the space funk Songs For The Fallen, the airiness can suddenly almost sparkle. More common though is a kind of sonic feasting that can teeter on the edge of over-rich – there are no makeweight or space filling solos here - but never does.
It’s another side of the positivity here that things happen with a purpose and each step just builds into that notion that things can happen, that people can do, that every day is a brand new start. Hallelujah.