By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Saxophonist Kamasai Washington brings his talented group to the SFJAZZ Center this week for three nights of intense, forward-thinking electric jazz.
While Washington has had a meteoric rise over the past two years, the adventurous band leader has been making a name for himself for well over a decade. A precocious musical talent, Washington studied at the prestigious Alexander Hamilton High School’s Academy of Music in Los Angeles before getting accepted to UCLA on a scholarship to study with the Department of Enthnomusicology.
Washington would perform with noted faculty members like guitarist Kenny Burrell and drummer Billy Higgins and began independently releasing his own albums in 2004. Equally adept with jazz and hip-hop — he has collaborated with his hero Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock as well as such rap luminaries as Nas, Snoop Dogg and producer Flying Lotus — last year Washington was a major contributor to Kendrick Lamar’s landmark 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly. The album earned universal critical acclaim and ended up winning multiple Grammys.
Washington released his own celebrated three-disc opus The Epic on the Brainfeeder imprint run by Flying Lotus just two months after Lamar’s album hit stores, garnering equally high praise. Songs on the The Epic interweave elements of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders’ fire-breathing ’60s exploration, Herbie Hancock’s spiritually minded electric Mwandishi ensemble and the funky global groves of NYC collective Oneness of Juju.
In 2016, Washington and his band became an in-demand attraction at international music festivals, playing sets at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Chicago’s PitchforkMusic Festival and San Francisco’s own Outside Lands, where the band’s electrifying early Sunday set was a high point of the day (if not the entire weekend). The saxophonist returns to San Francisco for the first time since that appearance, playing five sets over three nights with his band featuring keyboard phenom Brandon Coleman and dueling drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner at the SFJAZZ Center’s Miner Auditorium this weekend.
Friday-Sunday, January 6-8, times vary $35-$80
Miner Auditorium at the SFJAZZ Center