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Baker's Dozen

Thirteen Prayers: Kamasi Washington's Favourite Albums
Paul Smith , May 18th, 2016 11:43

Before he embarks on a summer of touring following his excellent 2015 album The Epic, the saxophonist and bandleader makes some difficult decisions to give Paul Smith 13 albums that affected his musical approach

Photograph courtesy of Mike Park

It's been a year since Kamasi Washington's life was transformed. Before the release of his debut The Epic in May of last year, he was a go-to session musician, providing saxophone for Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill and Nas. Then, when Brainfeeder conjured up a new soundscape for his native Los Angeles, he found himself adding solos to records by his pals Flying Lotus and Thundercat before eventually winding up on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly.

But it was The Epic that established him as a bandleader in his own right and a modern-day saxophone colossus. Clocking in at 72 minutes, the three-volume manifesto was bolstered by a 32-piece orchestra and a 20-person choir. Thirty-five-year-old Washington was heralded as the reincarnation of his hero John Coltrane. To borrow a phrase from the title of its opening track, 'Change Of The Guard', that's exactly how it felt in November, when he played his debut show at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival. Like one of Washington's boundless solos, The Epic floated to the upper regions of year-end lists and reinvigorated the genre.

Washington's Bakers Dozen charts his single-minded trip through the history of jazz and into its future. He takes us from his early hip-hop purchases, through to his teenage years spent in Los Angeles big bands and college ethnomusicology class.

Obviously settling on 13 records wasn't easy for him. "This list is something like revision number 15," he says, laughing. "Honestly I sat down and went through my record collection and with every album I got past where I thought, 'Oh man this really impacted me', I'd write it down, and then one tenth of the way there I'd already hit 13 albums. Oh shit."

In fact, the list he submits to tQ is 14 albums long, but after we make a ruthless cull, we're ready to go. The rationale here is simple. "This is the best representation of the music that affected me and made me who I am musically."

The Epic is out now on Brainfeeder. Kamasi Washington begins a world tour next month, taking in Primavera Sound in Barcelona on June 2; for full details and tickets, head here