Kamasi Washington surprised everyone in 2015 with the release of his debut album, The Epic. Whilst Washington wasn’t exactly an unknown quantity back in 2015 - he’d contributed to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, was signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label and had eked out a successful career as a session musician - there was no escaping the fact that jazz was practically seen as a dead genre. Hell, despite the critical and commercial success that greeted the release of The Epic, just one year later Hollywood would repeat the myth that jazz as “dying on the vine” in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. Today, jazz is experiencing something of a resurgence with exciting, innovative acts playing with and around the genre both in the States and around the world - with Kamasi Washington seen as the figurehead for this new wave of jazz (and jazz-influenced) artists.

Heaven & Earth, then, arrives with the weight of expectation. Whilst between albums Washington and his band released a more manageable jazz record in the form of 30-minute EP Harmony of Difference, Heaven & Earth sees the group return to the searing, soaring jazz that characterised The Epic. Yet there’s also a tenderness and serenity to the record that we haven’t really seen from Washington before, and this contrast forms the conceptual core of the record. Heaven & Earth is in a sense two albums. Disc one is Earth, a physically engaging record that pulls heavily from big band jazz and bebop, styles that bold and infectious. Disc two, meanwhile, is Heaven an ethereal, atmospheric collection of tracks that recalls the works of Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders.

In some respects this almost makes Heaven & Earth a far more accessible record than The Epic. Its two discs feel like complimentary, yet separate entities. Two wonderful, engaging jazz records that, if you have the time, can be listened to together, or else separately depending on the mood you’re in. Each disc’s opening tracks exemplify this contrast. ‘Fists of Fury’ reworks the theme song of a 1970’s Kung Fu movie into an impassioned, energised jazz track that strikes a rebellious, confrontational tone. Its lyrics, which compare the tranquil, welcoming gesture of open hands with the clenched fist of protest, are complimented by Patrice Quinn’s vocals which start the song with warmth and end in declarations of retribution. Conversely, ‘The Space Traveller’s Lullaby’, which opens Heaven, is a beautiful, cinematic track that evokes cosmic wonder with swirling strings and choral vocals taking the centre stage over Washington’s tenor saxophone.

As with The Epic, Heaven & Earth not only exemplifies Washington’s ability as a saxophonist and band leader, but also the band he has assembled. Every member gets their chance to shine. Vocalist Patrice Quinn exudes righteous rebellion on ‘Fists of Fury’, only to later deliver the beautifully tender ‘Journey’. Cameron Grave’s piano playing becomes the hook of ‘Hub-Tones’ (a cover of a Freddie Hubbard composition) and ‘Can You Hear Him’, whilst Brandon Colman’s keyboard work and vocoder lends a dreamy and hypnotic quality to ‘Vi Lua Vi Sol’. Trombone player, Ryan Porter, meanwhile gets his starring moment in his own composition, ‘The Psalmnist’, an infectious, funky track that’s one of the album’s highlights.

Heaven & Earth in some respects manages to pull the biggest surprise of all by surpassing Washington’s debut. By drawing from a broader sonic palette, Washington and his band can not only go bigger and bolder than they did on The Epic, but also bring a tenderness and intimacy to their music that - whilst not absent - was certainly not seen as equal to the big band sound that characterised their debut. Heaven & Earth is a monumental record, both in terms of its length and its scope, but you shouldn’t let that put you off. This is an album that exemplifies the emotive, transformative power of music played by people at the peak of their abilities - musicians that can draw you into their world and reveal something new and beautiful to you.