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Kamasi Washington gets a festive homecoming at Arroyo Seco Weekend

Kamasi Washington gets a festive homecoming at Arroyo Seco Weekend
Kamasi Washington performs at the Arroyo Seco Weekend music festival in Pasadena on Saturday. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“We back home,” a beaming Kamasi Washington told the sun-drenched crowd at the main stage of Arroyo Seco Weekend on Saturday afternoon before beginning his set with a rousing piece from his just-released double-album, “Heaven and Earth.”

The Los Angeles-raised saxophonist was referencing the excitement in being back in Southern California after a hefty touring schedule that’s dominated his life since his 2015 debut, “The Epic,” upended the jazz world. But he could just as easily have been talking about performing in front of a festival crowd, where Washington and his group the West Coast Get Down have broken genre divides to appear at the likes of Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and, for the second time a few months back, Coachella.

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And while Washington’s roiling, spiritually charged music continued to sound gloriously suited to big outdoor crowds, which at Arroyo Seco continued to grow as his set gathered steam, there was a sense that this show wasn’t quite the full-scale hometown album-release celebration.

That of course had happened last Thursday with the Heaven and Earth Block Party, which packed Washington’s home club of Leimert Park’s World Stage inside and out with two sets that went deep into the night. For for his midafternoon performance at Arroyo Seco, Washington’s shapeshifting group (which includes multiple bandleaders in their own right) was pared from its occasional additions of an orchestra and choir to number roughly a half a dozen.

Kamasi Washington performs at the Arroyo Seco Weekend music festival.
Kamasi Washington performs at the Arroyo Seco Weekend music festival. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Still, there was plenty to celebrate. “Heaven and Earth’s” “Street Fighter Mas” swaggered and spiraled through a loping funk groove, and Washington’s father Rickey joined the band on soprano saxophone for some new twists and angles through “The Rhythm Changes,” which featured gliding vocals from Patrice Quinn.

As the performance ventured through expansive new tracks “Will You Sing” and the blaxsploitation soundtrack swirl of “Fists of Fury,” there was no sense of Washington letting up to accommodate the midday hour or the easygoing vibe of the family-friendly Arroyo Seco, which in its own way offered a snapshot of the bandleader’s home.

“The diversity we have is not something to be tolerated. It’s something to be celebrated,” Washington said, remarking on the faces in his crowd before a soaring “Truth” from his 2017 EP “The Harmony of Difference.” It was one of a few references from the festival’s stages Saturday regarding the current political climate, and given the unifying, uplifting qualities of the music, his point was beyond argument.

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