Three words, three albums. 

The single word influencing this column for the first few months of 2020 has now been replaced by three infinitely more hopeful words: Black Lives Matter. With anti-racist books flying off the shelves and Spotify curating BLM playlists, I flipped through my record collection to pick out three albums by my favourite Black artists: one lyrically-genius, two entirely instrumental. If you haven’t listened to them, I recommend checking them out. Their music will do far more than my words ever will.

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference (2017)

A six-track EP from a saxophonist of the highest order, who has assembled around him a band of equally incredible musicians. The opening notes on “Desire” herald in a half-hour musical journey, with recurring sequences building in intensity as the EP continues. The final track: “Truth” pulls all of this together into a thirteen-minute epic and adds a choir on top.

Live, Kamasi Washington and his band are simply on another level. Playing with two drummers, they raise the energy again and again, and just when you think there’s nowhere left for them to go, they crank it up another notch.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

One of the most iconic jazz albums of all time. Akin to Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference but 58 years its elder, the double-bass opening carries with it the feeling that something special is about to happen. It doesn’t disappoint, with a complexity that remains accessible and allows space for instruments to speak up, while also giving the listener space for thought. What impact those soft, soft brushes on “Blue in Green,” played by Jimmy Cobb? How unhurried Bill Evans’ piano playing on “Flamenco Sketches?” This is a timeless album that certainly won’t be forgotten.

Nas – Illmatic (1994)

A lyrical novel from Nas, where words speak stronger than images ever could. Illmatic tells the story of Nas growing up in Queensbridge, New York, a poet speaking the story of the streets. Rappers; I monkey flip ’em with the funky rhythm / I be kickin’, musician inflictin’ composition: “NY State of Mind” is a masterclass in internal rhyme, wordplay and flow, but each of the ten tracks is a classic, each turn of phrase as clever as the last.

I saw Nas perform Illmatic in full during its twenty-first-anniversary tour at the Roundhouse in London. Five years on, it feels like we need a celebration like that more than ever.

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