Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington is known for working with hip-hop and R&B artists. The title track from his new album, “Truth,” is a brilliant send-up that meshes jazz with 1970’s soul sensibilities.
New jazz consciousness
The single “Truth” from the album of the same name by tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington, offers a clear way to think about life, and to appreciate jazz. Or vice versa. One of the refreshing aspects of jazz is its ability to force listeners to confront their preconceived ideas. Not just about jazz, however. The music becomes a metaphor, and enlightened listeners become better thinkers, presumably. Washington’s “Truth” is one of those songs that gives listeners a new perspective. If a person can listen to only one jazz album this year, it should be this one. The title track is the first song, so the scaffolding of tunes is easy.
Washington’s resume is replete with projects that involve working with artists of other genres, namely hip-hop. He is flexible enough to go elsewhere, and return to his jazz roots and give audiences an album worth listening to and mulling over long after the music has ended.
“Truth” in jazz
The sensory overload is immediate. Even though the song begins softly, a piano plays mid-tempo, and listeners hardly realize when the drums enter. Jazz fans have heard this kind of arrangement before; they have heard a piano strive too hard, have heard drums stumble in, resulting in a noisy clatter that isn’t always artful or even pleasant. The opposite happens here.
All of the elements introduce themselves smoothly. I make comparisons between music and other art forms from time to time because they are appropriate. Here, Washington’s work is like seeing a large painting done in muted pastels and attempting to take in everything at once. The work must be unpacked. While listeners are following the piano, the drums sneak in. Eventually, Washington’s saxophone adds color and texture. Astute audiences will consider the track’s title, and the idea of how this arrangement and presentation of sound represent truth will give them more material to ponder.
But the song is not done with gentle surprises. Horns sing their own motif over the careful pacing of the other parts. The music gets louder a quarter of the way through. Voices singing “ah!” catch listeners off-guard. It is as though the restrained energy of the instrumentation has called forth voices. This doesn’t last long; right before the halfway point, the sound changes. The saxophone alternates between staccato and legato notes and plays rapidly enough to induce head swim. Toward the end of the song, the voices, still singing “ah!” return and listeners had not noticed they’d gone. Low and high voices separate, and above them, an even higher, clear soprano soars.
“Truth” in jazz and life
The sounds presented here encourages listeners to consider the title and what it means in general. How is the truth represented in everyday life? Much like the truth as humans experience it, the song creeps up on listeners and overwhelms them sometimes. Maybe that is the point—what we identify as the truth has a series of layers that we attempt to oversimplify. When we look closer, the complicated facets of the truth become more obvious, but they are different for everyone.
Washington’s “Truth” is a grand, sweeping idea, packaged deceptively smooth. It is, quite simply, jazz worth listening to.