Following on from his 2015 debut studio release The Epic, which definitely earned its title by sweeping and sprawling across a three-hour running time, saxophonist Kamasi Washington chooses to scale down the focus on Harmony of Difference, and centres its attention on the repetition and development of only a handful of themes over its six tracks.
That’s not to say this new EP is necessarily more restrained, though. Those familiar with Washington’s previous solo work can expect to find the same flamboyant musical touches (the background choral flourishes that surfaced throughout The Epic are a welcome return), the same tension between ostentatious bursts of energy and moments of quiet tranquillity, and the same skilful incorporation of other genres into the mix – the work as a whole is strongly evocative of 70s soul in many of its passages. In this respect, Washington does not do much to develop his sound further than what can be heard on his previous release, but this is by no means a bad thing. There are enough contemporary twists and turns to justify the music as much more than a stale re-treading of familiar and well-worn conventions, and everything is delivered with such vibrant enthusiasm that it is impossible not to get swept up along with the performance.
an interesting example of the way that ideas can be explored through instrumental music
With its constant referencing-back to previous melodic ideas, Harmony of Difference functions as a suite of compositions and not simply a collection of disparate tracks. The main theme that is established in the opening piece reappears in a variety of different guises across the EP – its repurposing for a bossa nova-style Latin rhythm section is a far cry from the languid jazz from which it first emerges. There are diversions to other ideas and motifs too, which gives the music some room to breathe and stops it from becoming too repetitive. By the time we reach the final track, it becomes fully clear what direction Kamasi Washington has been heading in all this time, as the main theme, along with some of the diversions and asides, are tied together into one final, fully cohesive piece of music. This is by far the longest track, being around thirteen minutes long as opposed to the average three to four- minute run time of the rest.
It becomes difficult after this not to view the structure of the EP as relating to its title in some way. It’s an interesting example of the way that ideas can be explored through instrumental music. Nothing is spelled out for the listener, and it is up to them to try and reconcile the title of the piece with the content and structure of the music. Understanding how the two inform and respond to one another requires active engagement with the music, but the end result is incredibly satisfying. The Harmony of Difference emerges as a concept that Washington is attempting to explore, and it is a pertinent one as well, a celebration of diversity in all its forms.