Hour 13 West Coast Get Down – Kamasi Washington, Cameron Graves, Throttle Elevator Music

Kamasi Washington

In the past several years, a suite of players have emerged from Los Angeles, many of whom grew up together, loosely connected by the name West Coast Get Down. The most visible player in this scene is Kamasi Washington from a jazz perspective, but Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Miles Mosley have made significant records in a pop and R’n’B vein. Composer and pianist Cameron Graves anchors Washington’s releases and has become known as a significant artist through his own release. Music from the West Coast Get Down in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

Throttle Elevator Music
For a decade before his breakout release, The Epic, Kamasi Washington contributed to many musical projects, among which was the punk jazz trio, Throttle Elevator Music. The trio consisted of Mike “Lumpy” Hughes on drums and guitars from the Oakland underground punk scene and Matt Montgomery on bass and piano plus Kamasi Washington on tenor sax. 2020 saw the sixth Throttle Elevator Music release, consisting of pieces from various sessions over the previous decade under the title Emergency Exit. From time to time the trio was supplemented by additional players as on the track Jagged Reform, which features Erik Jekabson of the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra on trumpet, Kasey Knudson on alto, and Mike Blankenship on the organ.

Across the Equinox. Throttle Elevator Music
(Kamasi Washington-ts, Matt Montgomery-b/g/p, Mike Hughes-d). From Jagged Rocks. Wide Hive Records. 2015.
Jagged Reform. Throttle Elevator Music
(Erik Jekabson-tp, Kamasi Washington-ts, Kasey Knudson-as, Mike Blankenship-org, Matt Montgomery-b, Mike Hughes-d). From Emergency Exit. Wide Hive Records. 2020.

The Epic
In 2015, Kamasi Washington broke out with his three-CD release, The Epic, which was almost universally included in critics best-of-the-year lists. Mark F. Turner wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Washington’s intrepid concepts are in full force in this auspicious project, one that integrates fiercely swinging jazz with R&B, and touch of spiritualism realized by his ten-piece band “The Next Step” with a full string orchestra and full choir. As fresh as anything in recent years The Epic feels like a throwback to the past as it echoes the deep lineage of the likes of Sun Ra, John Coltrane and African American church music. Yet these are informed through the saxophonist’s personal experiences growing up in Los Angeles and the surrounding area where he’s a member of the musical collective called the West Coast Get Down.” Coltrane’s influence seems very evident in the hard-driving Final Thoughts. Miss Understanding showcases the depth of the band featuring the trumpet of Ingmar Thomas and the arco bass of Miles Mosley.

Final Thought. Kamasi Washington and The Next Step
(Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p, Brandon Coleman-org, Miles Mosley-b, Tony Austin-d, Ronald Bruner-d, Leon Mobley-per). From The Epic. Brainfeeder. 2015.
Miss Understanding. Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
(Igmar Thomas-tp, Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p, Brandon Coleman-key, Miles Mosley-b, Stephen Bruner-b, Ronald Bruner-d, strings, choir). From The Epic. Brainfeeder. 2015.

Harmony of Difference & Planetary Prince
After such a colossal effort as the 170-minute The Epic, Kamasi Washington’s 2017 30-minute follow-up Harmony of Difference is a relatively modest affair, but in scale alone. The music continues to make reference to elements from the long history of jazz, but in a very personal voice. Phil Barnes wrote, “Starting with an incendiary, quick fire horn riff [the tune Humility] feels more like a call to arms from Charles Mingus than anything humble – and with a running time of 2 minutes 46 seconds is gone far too quickly. The pace drops a touch with the mellower, more reflective, Knowledge …“

From the broader West Coast Get Down, bassists Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Miles Mosely have both released significant efforts in the pop and R’n’B worlds. Pianist Cameron Graves, who has toured with Stanley Clarke put out a fine disc in 2017, Planetary Prince. Christopher Hoard wrote, “One of the shorter pieces, The End of Corporatism is a relentlessly up-tempo rococo celebration of fast and devious chord changes. Thundercat’s acrobatic solo runs soar, always on the precarious edge of his brother Ronald [Bruner’s] nuclear bursts of tom rolls and tsunami swells of cymbals. To hear the two of them locked in under the cascading arpeggios of Graves’ piano is pure jazz spectacle recalling the ’70s jazz-rock supergroups.”

Humility. Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
(Dontae Winslow-tp, Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p, Brandon Coleman-key, Miles Mosley-b, Ronald Bruner Jr-d, Tony Austin-d/per). From Harmony of Difference. Brainfeeder. 2017.
Knowledge. Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
(Dontae Winslow-tp, Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p, Brandon Coleman-key, Miles Mosley-b, Ronald Bruner Jr-d, Tony Austin-d/per). From Harmony of Difference. Brainfeeder. 2017.
The End of Corporatism. Cameron Graves Sextet
(Philip Dizack-tp, Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p/voc, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner-b, Ronald Bruner, Jr-d). From Planetary Prince. Mack Avenue. 2017.

Heaven and Earth
After the brief 2017 effort Harmony of Difference, Kamasi Washington returned to long form with his 2018 three-CD release Heaven and Earth. Washington covers a number of classic jazz and pop lines like Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones and Goffin and King’s, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, but his own writing and arranging remain compelling as does his fealty to the great traditions of this music in the context of an artist firmly establishing his own voice.

My Family. Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
(Dontae Winslow-tp, Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Rickey Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p, Miles Mosley-b, Tony Austin-d/per). From Heaven and Earth. Young Turks. 2018.
Show Us the Way.  Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
(Dontae Winslow-tp, Ryan Porter-tb, Kamasi Washington-ts, Rickey Washington-ts, Cameron Graves-p, Miles Mosley-b, Tony Austin-d/per). From Heaven and Earth. Young Turks. 2018.

The ambitious and prolific artists of the have been one of the great surprises of the past several years. Mostly in their early thirties, this group of composer/instrumentalists has quickly become a force moving music in their own direction from a solid foundation of jazz history.

Resources
Ackerman, Karl. (2020, July 1). Throttle Elevator Music: Emergency Exit. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/emergency-exit-throttle-elevator-music-wide-hide-records

Turner, Mark F. (2015, September 20). Kamasi Washington: The Epic. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-epic-kamasi-washington-brainfeeder-review-by-mark-f-turner.php

Barnes, Phil. (2017, October 18). Kamasi Washington: Harmony Of Difference. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/harmony-of-difference-kamasi-washington-young-turks-recordings-review-by-phil-barnes.php

Hoard, Christopher. (2017, March 11). Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/planetary-prince-cameron-graves-mack-avenue-records-review-by-christopher-hoard.php

Farbey, Roger. (2018, July 15). Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/heaven-and-earth-kamasi-washington-young-turks-review-by-roger-farbey.php

Chinen, Nate. (2018, June 22). Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth. https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/kamasi-washington-heaven-and-earth/

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