I hadn’t really ‘got’ Whitney – Max from Smith Westerns’ new band – until I saw them live here at CMJ. Debut song ‘No Matter Where We Go’ seemed nice enough when it came out a few months ago, sort of like a ballsier take on Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but it’s not really indicative of what the six piece are really about.
Alongside Max we’ve got former Touching Voids man Julian Ehrlich (he also played in Smiths and UMO), who sings, drums and takes centre stage. His voice is pitched somewhere between Shuggie Otis and Stevie Wonder – a glorious, lonely falsetto – and when you add in some sax, bright farfisa organ and a few disco-funk guitar lines reminiscent of Fern Kinney (or, to be less muso about it, Kevin Parker’s more recent output) it all makes perfect sense.
But in saying all that, what they remind me of most is The Band. There’s a tenderness there, and an almost drunken sense of togetherness when they play. Maybe it’s the fact they all grin manically at each other throughout proceedings (a sharp contrast to the more aloof nature of Max and Julian’s former bands), or maybe it’s just because they know they’re onto something good. Whatever – when they close their set with a beautiful, ambitious song called ‘No Women’ it’s clear they’re one of the new bands of the week.
Kamasi Washington, of course, is also onto something rather special in 2015. Already revered after years working on music for everyone from Erykah Badu to Snoop to Adele, his solo album The Epic is one of 2015’s most critically praised, as is his stellar work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Last night he took it to the 700 capacity Le Poisson Rouge, bringing out a host of guests as the gig took on a celebratory feel (chief among those guests being his saxophonist dad Rickey and fellow Kendrick/Snoop collaborator Terrace Martin on alto).
Washington’s band are little short of mesmerising, with double bassist Miles Mosley pushing his instrument to the limit and vocalist Patrice Quinn a constant presence, even when she’s not cooing into the mic. Kamasi, too, is clearly revered by everyone in the room – after the gig he’s bombarded at the merch stall, staying and signing every last request. It’s well earned…