It’s all a matter of perspective…
A Thundercat thumb resonating against fretboard.
Gently cast adrift, lured by a woozy siren’s call, fluttering upward like a leaf in the breeze.
Frantic tootling, like a saxophonist falling down the stairs yet soldiering on.
Vox Humana strains of Aqua Marina.
You recognise the symbols, you think, but the elements are muddled; a crimson cheek of an alphabetical window pane.
Shining hieroglyphics in the dark.
Orbs of pearlescent alabaster floating in an azure melange like clangorous scales.
A bookstore at dusk in the 1970s, or a corkboard of overlapping polaroid cityscapes?
Linear blocks letting slip spaces of infinite, white void.
Bare-chested wrestling in a fuschia ring of blossom.
A fading nebula, a grandmother’s face.
Still wearing his hat, he sits facing the corner, Chronicle in hand at the lowest rung.
A mouthful of lit candles.
Huddle in a sheet on the sands while waves lap behind.
Harmony of Difference represents more than just a record. It’s a sprawling, multi-disciplinary art project about the human condition, social cohesion, and family. The music is the thematic centrepiece, with the accompanying paintings and a short film coming together to establish a whole.
So let’s begin with the music.
On side A of Harmony Of Difference, Washington presents five separate, distinct pieces. Each has its own identity and style, bearing little resemblance to the others. They are short little numbers, more like sketches of ideas than self-contained tracks. Compared to the standard length of most jazz pieces – and indeed most of Washington’s work on his full-length records (see the appropriately titled The Epic for proof) – they are virtually snippets.
Amani Washington, Kamasi’s sister, produced the five abstract paintings that serve as an accompaniment to the project, each bearing the same titles as the tracks on side A of the record. With their bold colours and non-linear forms, the influence of jazz and free expression is plain to see. Again, here, each painting is distinct from the last, sharing certain conventions (visible brush strokes, abstract shapes and forms, tonality) but each possessing its own self-contained identity.
A. G. Rojas, primarily a music video director, created a film set to the music of Harmony of Difference, and featuring Amani Washington’s paintings. Viewed in isolation, the scenes here are abstract, too: inscrutable rituals and extreme close-ups on enigmatic expressions.
But then Washington performs a magic trick.
Side B of the record contains just one track: Truth. Within its 13 or so minutes, it seamlessly blends the five pieces that had previously seemed so distinct. All of the distinguishing features are there: the gentle, woozy siren’s call melody, with notes cast adrift and fluttering upwards. Frequent collaborator Thundercat’s distinctive slapped bassline setting a lilting tempo. A saxophone solo, just as frantic as before, but now the energy is less chaotic; less like falling down stairs and more like intentionally tumbling down a grassy hill. Listen closely and you can make out the twinkling pianos. And as the piece reaches its crescendo, the strains of a Vox Humana-esque choir, reminiscent of the theme for Aqua Marina in 1960s puppet show Stingray, ring out.
And it all blends perfectly. These separate ideas have become movements in a cohesive, sumptuous whole.
And the magic touches the paintings, too: the artwork entitled Truth is a collage of a human-face, compiled from elements of the abstract patterns of the preceding paintings. The forms and colours are all there, but now they have come together to establish a cubist depiction of a human.
The abstract tableaus in Rojas’ film are enigmatic when seen in isolation, but compiled together, fading into one another, and informed by the themes of the music and the paintings, the message becomes clearer: our communities and cultures may be different, our traditions and lifestyles may seem incompatible at first, but there’s a strength and beauty in diversity. Through art, the disparate can become unified, and the whole can become even greater than the sum of its parts. Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we can’t have harmony.
All paintings by Amani Washington.
Are you aware of the music known as jazz?