Concert Hall, December 4


This was almost a controlled scientific experiment. The first jazz to grace the revamped Concert Hall was being played by the same octet instrumentation Kamasi Washington brought to the room in 2018. On that occasion the density and volume overwhelmed the old Concert Hall’s capacity to cope. This time, with all the acoustic improvements in place, the sonic punch came with significantly greater clarity.

Kamasi Washington. Photos: Mikki Gomez.

Washington’s band will challenge most venues, its two drummers creating dense thickets of sound around the leader’s tenor saxophone, the vocals, trombone, flute/soprano saxophone, keyboards and double bass. At first it didn’t seem the room was going to rise to that challenge, with the bass and two bass drums sludgy and the tenor thin and trebly. But once the mix was sorted, we enjoyed long stretches where the sound was close to glorious.

And Washington likes shooting for glory in his material and performances; shooting for a sense of majesty, and this concert was far stronger than those on either of his previous Sydney visits. He told us that the first jazz to which his father Rickey (playing flute and soprano saxophone) took him was by fellow tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and so he played the sprawling anthem that is the latter’s The Creator Has a Masterplan. His tenor sound coarsened and expanded to fit the scale of the tune, and after Patrice Quinn had delivered the chant-like vocal part, firstly pianist Brandon Coleman and then Washington surged across the turbocharging effect provided by the two drummers, Antonio Austin and exciting newcomer Michael Mitchell.

Washington also told us that he became a father during the pandemic, and Sun-Kissed Child was a celebration of the endless possibilities the baby faces. It had Quinn singing at her most soulful, and Washington producing a solo that kept swelling until it was monumental, as happened again on the crunching Fists of Fury. Not only did the Concert Hall pass the test, but Washington and band have improved since last time, too: less bombast; more real power.