Kamasi Washington arrived on the international jazz scene from Los Angeles with a bang after the release of 2015's three-disc, three-hour The Epic. While he'd been around for a decade, playing with Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar -- whose To Pimp a Butterfly he arranged and played on -- the mammoth project turned him into jazz's perceived savior almost overnight. But he understood his own mission remarkably well and has remained undaunted by the hype. His second, double-length long-player Heaven and Earth was announced via tweet: "The Earth side…represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am part of. The Heaven side…represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me." Washington reassembled his Next Step band -- which includes bassists Miles Mosely and Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, drummers Ronald Bruner, Jr. and Tony Austin, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and vocalist Patrice Quinn -- supplemented by a jazz orchestra, West Coast Get Down, a symphony orchestra, and choir.
Heaven and Earth is a major dose of Afro-Futurism. Earth opens with a killer cover of the theme from Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, retitled in plural here. Quinn and Dwight Trible duet on lead vocals backed by a soaring, sweeping choir atop a cooking Latin jazz groove complete with montunos from Graves and a raw-boned solo from Washington (who is on fire throughout). The other cover is a funky take on Freddie Hubbard's "Hub-Tones," with layers of propulsive Latin rhythms. Dontae Winslow's jagged trumpet solo cuts across the mix before Washington's tenor answers. Of the originals, "Connections" is a space jazz embrace of hard bop and 20th century West Coast jazz, with great solos from Porter and Winslow, while "Testify" owes as much to Caribbean grooves and soul as jazz. Heaven commences with the spectral "The Space Traveler's Lullaby," with its gorgeous warm brass and reeds, swelling symphony strings, and soaring wordless chorus sounds like the Gil Evans and Sun Ra orchestras playing together. "Vi Lua Vi Sol" features a vocoder vocal from Coleman, with Porter blowing fills and a beefy solo, swooping synth lines atop Afrobeat drumming, and a popping upright bassline. The breaks and future funk of "Street Fighter Mas" owes equally to Miles Davis, Lamar, and Earth Wind and Fire as the choir extrapolates on the harmonics before Washington's skittering R&B-drenched solo. "Song for the Fallen" weds angular avant-jazz and future funk to wiry fusion and a multivalent rhythmic attack -- with the choir adding a celestial bent. Heaven and Earth is more a refinement of the ideas expressed on The Epic than an entirely new paradigm. There is less wandering, more focus, more inquiry and directed movement, as well as an abundance of colorful tonal and harmonic contrasts. More than anything else, it establishes Washington as a composer and arranger of dizzying potential and still underscores his twin rep as a soloist and jazz conceptualist. [The CD version contains a third, hidden bonus disc in the middle panel (it has to be slit open) containing three more originals -- "The Secret of Jinsinson," "My Family," and "Agents of Multiverse," plus covers of Carole King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and Stan Vincent's "Ooh Child."]