Despite reports to the contrary, jazz is still not dead. Leading the genre well into the 21st century is saxophonist Kamasi Washington, whose experimental, freeform playing style has earned him comparisons to jazz legends from John Coltrane to Pharoah Sanders. Washington recently released a double-album Heaven and Earth and an EP The Choice that included covers of the Fist of Fury movie theme, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “O-o-h Child.”
The theme to the 1972 Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury is like a snapshot of Hollywood themes of old, somewhere between the majestic sounds that defined old Westerns and the soundtracks to early James Bond films. Washington transforms the cover, which he renamed “Fists of Fury,” into a nine-minute experimental protest anthem. With the song, he merges the orchestral soul that defined the spirit of ‘70s blaxploitation flicks with fusion jazz.
Washington opens the track with a blast of strings and percussion and a series of choral style “Ahs” and “Ohs” followed by the opening words: “I use hands to help my fellow man.” The first verse is followed by extended piano and saxophone solos. For the finale, vocalists Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible call out the lyrics: “Our time as victims is over/We will no longer ask for justice/Instead we will take our retribution.”
More than just a cover, it’s a full-on call to action. “‘Fists of Fury’ is about being assertive and taking the power that you have,” Washington told The FADER in a recent interview. “African-American people are asking for justice from a country that has never given it to us, and at a certain point you realize there’s no intention to give you that justice, and no desire for you to have it from those people you are asking for it from — so why ask? If you’re asking someone for justice that means you feel like justice is outside of your control, and I don’t feel like it is.”
Within the packaging of the Heaven and Earth album, Washington also included a five-track EP called The Choice. The second song is a cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and first made famous by the Shirelles. Over the years it has been covered by numerous artists – and King herself recorded a version on her classic 1971 album Tapestry. The track begins with a slow fade-in of percussion, piano and saxophone. Patrice Quinn delivers a bluesy take on the lyrics, and Washington delivers a thunderous solo.
To close out The Choice, Washington performed a reworking of the Five Stairsteps’ 1970 soul classic “O-o-h Child.” A message song through and through with its uplifting lyrics “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.” Washington stretches the track out to nearly nine minutes and gives it a retro-futurist vibe, combining ‘70s style funk with Star Trek-style sound effects. The lyrics themselves are almost given a back seat as Washington stretches out his solos. Taken by themselves, the three tracks almost make for an album in and of themselves, and show that Washington is a force to be reckoned with in contemporary jazz.
Click here to listen to more Carole King covers.