For the last dozen years, the West Coast Get Down has been a collective of supremely versatile Los Angeles musicians, each member a capable but vastly different leader from one another. The band’s explosive arrival beyond the L.A. basin was the release of member and saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. The album was praised upon its release in March 2015 and a non-stop world tour has kept Washington’s name in the headlines while the rest of the band planned their debuts from the same blur of hotels, stages and airports. Now, finally, another member is ready to have his name on the marquee: bassist Miles Mosley.
Mosley is a charming frontman. He broke through as a teenager and has since been steadily working with acts as varied as Korn and Billy Preston. His new album, Uprising (World Galaxy/Alpha Pup), is a diverse collection of original tunes that sway from shouting gospel to slapping funk, psychedelic baroque to thumping dance grooves.
On Jan. 28 at the El Rey Theatre in L.A., Mosley and his booming bass performed selections from the new album, and throughout the night shared stories and appreciations that were humble and welcoming. In between, things were much more aggressive.
When the curtain pulled back, 18 musicians filled the stage around Mosley, who was dressed in all black (matching the color of his upright bass). He wore a golden armament on his right bicep. (Though collective member Thundercat was not present, his chain mail armor would pair well with Mosley’s decorative shield.) A four-woman choir, six-piece string section, two keyboardists, a horn section and drummer Tony Austin also filled the stage.
The band immediately hit loud and fast, summoning incredible force on a par with Sly & the Family Stone. The manic, freight-train vibe seemed to inform much of the evening’s set, with the choir hollering and the horns blasting throughout. Mosley didn’t move much, but he made up for it with some bass demonstrations that few others can match.
Mosley is a rare combination of singer and upright bassist. He handles both with aplomb but it his instrumental prowess that gets him so many gigs. He handles the large instrument like a toy, swaying and stabbing with his bow. When he really digs in, he can summon the sound of a thousand jets, shredding the hell out of his upper register as pedals multiply the intensity and decibels.
During the hour and a half long set, each member of the horn section was also given an opportunity for an extended solo. But this was not a blowing session. Mosley’s compositions moved like suites, quietude buoyed by pianist Cameron Graves while the bombast would swing in on Austin’s sticks.
Washington was the first featured, snarling over the rest of the band with a tightly-wound shot. Trombonist Ryan Porter nabbed the spotlight later on, blowing with exuberance. Trumpeter Dontae Winslow, his horn bell painted red, reached into the stratosphere for his solo, splattering high brass all over the band’s grooving gospel. Under the guidance of musical director Geoff “Double G” Gallegos, the strings were sharp, pumping up the pomp and circumstance.
“Fire” boiled over quickly with every member of the orchestra pushing his or her abilities to the limit. The crowd followed the lead, moving endlessly through the set in all manner of exuberance. “Sky High” featured Graves nimble piano. A baby grand piano was a rare sight on the El Rey stage, a venue usually reserved for rock acts. Graves took his time, flicking daggers with precision. His piano also grounded “Abraham,” the lead single from the album. The title is a reference to Mosley’s first name by birth, and the song is a roaring, triumphant anthem.
The West Coast Get Down is a many-tentacled beast still tethered to a central nervous system. In the next few months, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., bassist Thundercat, keyboardist Brandon Coleman and pianist Cameron Graves will all release albums, attempting to further define themselves amid the soaring juggernaut that is “Kamasi Washington fever.”
As each member grabs the megaphone, a whole new world of box office draws and marquee combinations will be tried. This year might be a challenge for the collective, because there are so many options, so many paths to explore. It’s a nice problem to have, but one that will no doubt test their limits. DB