Depending on where you stand on jazz, this sprawling, conceptual double album will either be heavenly or hell on earth. Comprising more than two and a half hours of hard jazz music, it offers few concessions to casual listeners.
This is not dinner party jazz. It's complicated, complex stuff that comes out firing. Yes, there's motifs and melodic hooks to latch onto, but they bookend the wild and restless musical explorations that Washington and his crash hot band embark on. You're either gonna hear masters at work or a lot of raucous squawking.
It's split in two, the first half representing the physical world while the flip side represents the spiritual. Each luxuriates in colour and indulgence, with songs usually hovering around the 10-minute mark and journeying through many tenets of jazz philosophy; free form jams, extended solos, wild modal experiments, tricksy changes, odd time signatures and head-nodding grooves. Heck, a vocoder even shows up to offer a robotic counterpoint to all the celestial choirs and heavenly vocals.
Kicking off in fighting fashion with the tough, street jazz of Fists of Fury, its familiar cinematic funk bedrock of wah guitar, Latin percussion and Washington's superb, furious, sax soloing offers an easy entry point.
That's the low-down dirty sound of the first half; the second is smooth and spacey, although no less urgent. The band cooks, especially on Street Fighting Mas and the portentous closer, Will You Sing, but it's soaring rather than scrapping.
It'd be a disservice to an album this deep, with so much going on in each song, to describe any particular track as a highlight. The record challenges as much as it thrills, veering from frantic urgency to dreamy bliss and encompassing every emotion in between.
The songs push on, always. Never staying still or resting on one idea for long. There's so much inventiveness here, so much to unpack and discover. So much to revel in and live with.
Heaven and Earth
A brilliant space odyssey that soars from the street to the heavens.