By calling his long awaited, warm-hearted and full of amazing graces yet often boisterous, joyful and swinging debut album What’s the Hurry, Kenny Washington jabs playfully at the question his legion of fans (that include Wynton Marsalis and Karrin Allyson) have no doubt been asking throughout his countless years of performances in his adopted Bay Area home region and on the international circuit.
The multi-talented vocal interpreter (and onetime saxophonist) emphasizes this sentiment with a dramatic flourish on the second go-round of a key line on the jaunty, Latin fired arrangement of “Invitation,” which begins with the spirited bongo energy of Peter Michael Escovedo: “Hoping you’ll say with a sweet invitation/Where have you been, darling?/Come in, into my heart.”
Washington does just that in myriad ways on the constantly engaging 11-track collection, which delicately balances Washington’s pure emotional nuances and more freewheeling, high spirited storytelling. The result is soulful and intuitive improvisational freshness, even on Songbook tunes we’ve heard countless other times like “The Best is Yet to Come,” “S’Wonderful,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Smile” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
With a mix of sparse and bustling arrangements featuring the core ensemble of Josh Nelson (piano), Gary Brown (acoustic bass), Lorca Hart (drums) and Victor Goines (tenor sax and clarinet), Washington’s colorfully textured, richly hued interpretations take us from the hushed intimacy of “Here’s To Life” to a funky, fiery yet sweetly romantic romp through Jobim’s bossa nova standard “No More Blues (Chega de Saudade).”
His hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, once dubbed Washington “the Superman of the Bay Area jazz scene.” On What’s the Hurry, he more than lives up to that billing, leaping tall, jazzy buildings in a single bound and piercing and uplifting our hearts faster than the proverbial speeding bullet.