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Kamasi Washington’s Epic Jazz Hits UCSB

Saxophonist Contributed to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’

“There’s a lot of beautiful things happening,” said Kamasi Washington of the present moment and the days ahead. Washington and his bad, the Next Step, will beautify the air of Campbell Hall with his jazz saxophone masterworks on Thursday, February 16, in an Arts & Lectures performance sure to be filled with volcanically explosive bursts of vibrant, spacey, and poetic jazz sounds, beautiful and loud.

Known for his nearly three-hour-long album, The Epic, and his contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and his work with Thundercat, he is one of the most exhilarating sax performers of the moment, and right now, there’s a lot he’s thrilled about personally. His friends and collaborators Miles Mosley and Cameron Graves have new albums coming out soon, for example, and Washington himself has just finished recording a new six-part suite he debuted at this year’s Whitney Biennial. “My intention was to highlight the idea that the most beautiful experiences we have in life are a combination of different things, not the separation of things,” he said of the suite. “You see a beautiful painting, it’s the combination of colors; you see beautiful scenery, it’s the mountains, the trees, the rocks, the sun, the sky, everything. So I wrote a six-part piece of five different, individual songs that I wrote, and the sixth part is playing all five songs at the same time.”’

Washington is a musician of big sounds, like with his album The Epic, with its grand-scale musical flourishes, but he’s just letting things flow. “My ideas unfold in a slow way; it’s hard to control the music, and I try to let the music be really free, and that freedom takes time for the music to get to the place it wants to be,” he said. “Like a body of water — it takes a long time to make a pool.” When working with Lamar and Terrace Martin on To Pimp a Butterfly, they gave him full creative freedom, telling him, “Do whatever you hear.”

He’s working on more new material and absorbing new music. “My favorite thing to do is hear a new record,” he said, inspired by the music around him as he looks “inwardly more, to find the music that’s inside of me.” Music, he says, helps him capture the moment. “My hope is just to always be fresh and always be true.”

411: Kamasi Washington plays Thursday, February 16, 8 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit UCSB Arts & Lectures

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