Kamasi Washington Fearless Movement Review: A dizzyingly eclectic fusion of ideas

André 3000, George Clinton, Thundercat and more join saxophonist on hip-hop informed new album.

Kamasi Washington

by Grayson Haver Currin |
Updated on

Kamasi Washington

Fearless Movement



KAMASI WASHINGTON’s album covers feel like feints, singular portraits of his imposing figure that give the onlooker the sense that his music is egocentric and self-interested. But since his toddling days in a casual family band that featured Ronald and Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner, the second-generation Los Angeles saxophonist has depended upon the collaboration of community, of musicians chasing strains of transcendence together in a room. From his days as a “Young Jazz Giant” and his inaugural tour with Snoop Dogg to his sprawling two prior albums, each rendered by a cast of dozens, Washington has indeed functioned as a very bright star in his artistic constellation but never the one around which everyone else revolves. “Each of the musicians I have with me I respect as being a genius,” he told The Fader website in advance of 2018’s Heaven And Earth. “I would never try to block that.”

This idea has never been more clear or powerful on Washington’s records than on Fearless Movement, his first album in six years and, even at 86 minutes, his most concise statement by half since the breakthrough run that began with 2015’s The Epic. On these dozen tracks, Washington creates a playground and invites friends in to be themselves, shaping a dizzying crosshatch of ideas where George Clinton’s lounge croon sets up a trumpet-chased pep talk from rapper D Smoke, or André 3000 slips – with flutes in hand – into a nocturnal haze that feels like some futuristic Debussy state of bliss.

Perhaps most telling is Asha The First, framed by a loping melody his pandemic-born daughter penned on piano before she was two. The song crashes in with a Doug Carn-like spiritual jazz proclamation before cousin Thundercat steps in for a whirlwind bass solo. Washington then rips through the lead, all passion. When rappers Taj and Ras Austin slide into the track’s back half for a tangle of rapid-fire verses as the drums and keys surge forward as if carried by a riptide, the sense of togetherness is electrifying and urgent, as if Washington had a message he needed help delivering right now.

It is easy to imagine Washington disappearing here, his restless tone shrouded beneath the features and tizzy of ideas. And, sure, this is not a saxophone record, not something that will convince you he is a titan of the instrument itself. (There are, however, many moments where he cooks, like his steady climb toward a bellow during Prologue and his ever-winding lines during The Garden Path.) That hardly seems like the point, anyway: Fearless Movement is an unabashed, cross-country, transgenerational manifestation and celebration of Black American music, pushing it forward from a deep love of its past not just in the spirit of community but in its actual presence.

Fearless Movement is out now on Young.

Listen/Buy: Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Rough Trade | HMV

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