Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington Frazer Harrison / Getty

For some reason I thought there’d be tables. Like, you know, those tiny ones that are just big enough for a pack of cigarettes, a glass of whiskey, an elbow? And that I’d be dressed in satin, perching my ass on a just big enough stool, engulfed in smoke, surrounded by other young beautiful beatniks in sunglasses. This was supposed to be a jazz concert. But on Wednesday night there were no tables. No cigarettes. No satin. No barely-big-enough stool. What I quickly learned is that Kamasi Washington’s music necessitates standing, crowding, craning, complete physical engagement with the band on stage.

The second leg of Washington’s North American tour kicked off in Seattle earlier this week, playing to a sold out Showbox. In spite of an increasingly chatty crowd, opener Victory Boyd set the stage for the Afrocentric night ahead, singing about love, music, and the black struggle. She eventually grabbed the crowd’s attention with her rendition of “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. It only veered slightly off track when she asked for audience participation, encouraging us to sing “You know how I feel” over and over again. The Seattle crowd sounded like a weak chorus of embarrassed schoolchildren, getting quieter and quieter. Boyd worked with what she had—a mark of a truly great musician.

Washington came out in his signature dashiki and afro. The first few songs bumped hard, with Washington giving his bandmates lots of time to be in the spotlight. The emotional apex of the night occurred during “Truth,” a song off of Washington’s 2017 EP Harmony of Difference. He prefaced it by telling us that, “Our diversity… is not something to be tolerated, it’s something to be celebrated.” At the risk of sounding cliche, the song is epic. It started off humbly, the talented band slowly building sounds that became a living, breathing, humming body, full of soulful lows and ecstatic synthy highs. When Washington’s saxophone came through, it cut like a blade. The sound was crisp like a cold, sunny winter morning, revelatory like a slap in the fucking face. Throughout, Washington raised his fist in the air for Black Power. The thirteen-minute song careened close to chaos, but managed to always come back, weaving the at times disparate sounds into a beautiful sonic tapestry. I felt like I was soaring along with them.

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He took us through a couple of other tracks before ending the night with “Fists of Fury.” In parting, he told us, “How beautiful is this, how beautiful are we?” Never before had I experienced live music like Washington’s—it demands attention but also gave me a lot of space to reflect.

Though Washington did not sing during his performance, his saxophone provoked conversation that sounded and looked like what a potential future could be. A future of differences coexisting peacefully, wildly, harmoniously. I left feeling that maybe, just maybe, I was living in a universe whose moral arc bends towards justice, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary. I later sent “Truth” to my grandmother, a former jazz and blues singer, telling her she should listen when she had the chance. She responded “I will! Because I already like the title ‘Truth.’ And that’s the only thing or people I’m interested in being around.” Same, gramma, same.