On Nov. 15, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his band The Next Step performed to a packed crowd at the Magic Stick as part of the Harmony of Difference Tour.
After an opening DJ warmed up the crowd with electronic and hip-hop instrumentals, the band, which consists of seven members, played an hour and a half of their signature jazz sound. Including two drummers and two keyboardists, The Next Step provided a rich musical backdrop for Washington’s saxophone to lead the way.
Washington has been active in recent years, gaining notoriety for his work with electronic artist Flying Lotus, funk bassist Thundercat and his contributions to rapper Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Washington and his band’s latest EP, “Harmony of Difference” is a follow up to 2015’s critically acclaimed three-hour long album, aptly titled “The Epic.” Prior to its release, Washington described the EP to wetransfer.com as “a six-song suite – the first part is five songs and part six is us playing the five songs at the same time.”
“The sixth piece is a shared experience. I hope that the metaphor works and it makes people think about what that reality is,” the bandleader added.
After a warm-up that transitioned from flurrying to steady, the band began their set with “Change of the Guard,” the first song on “The Epic.”
Washington then introduced his father, Ricky Washington, to the stage as a special guest. Alternating between clarinet and flute, he remained for the rest of the show. The group moved through more songs from “The Epic,” including the upbeat and horn-heavy “Re Run” and the bass-centered “Askim.” Another song, “Black Man,” which does not appear on either of Washington’s releases, was played.
The crowd, largely young and diverse, was attentive during the songs, but erupted into cheering after solos and at the end of each track. Some danced heavily, while a majority nodded their heads in sync with the music. Washington, donned in his usual African-inspired robe and medallion, told the crowd anecdotes between songs, ranging from the comedic to the moving.
“Diversity should not only be tolerated, diversity should be celebrated; this world is a result of each of us,” Washington said to applause. Directly after, the band played a shortened version of “Truth,” the final song on “Harmony of Difference,” some of which appeared to be improvised. As the aforementioned “shared experience,” the song combines the five previous melodies on the EP, and makes for a moving conclusion to the project.
Washington gave control of the stage to vocalist Patrice Quinn as the band performed “The Rhythm Changes” as the final song. Quinn’s singing was on display, as the song began in an upbeat fashion, similar to a show-tune. Washington’s lengthy saxophone solo at the end of the set ended the show on a high note, with uproar from the Magic Stick audience.
In parting, Washington, who performed at this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival in September bid the crowd farewell: “Detroit, thank you for making us feel good. We’ll be back soon.”