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Jazz - Released February 27, 2015 | ACT Music

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Top du mois de Jazznews - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Jazz
Inspired by his love of the music of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, Rudresh Mahanthappa pays homage to the late bebop innovator on 2015's Bird Calls. It was purportedly while breaking down Parker's performance on "Donna Lee" to help a student learn the infamously difficult song that saxophonist Mahanthappa came up with the concept of a different way to interpret Parker's music. Taken in small, easily digestible bites, Mahanthappa began to hear Parker's architectural bop motifs less as swinging, blues-based jazz and more as modern classical or even avant-garde music. Combining his own creative approach to jazz with Indian raga, funk, post-bop, and other eclectic stylistic elements, Mahanthappa wrote pieces loosely based on Parker's songs or parts of solos. For example, "Both Hands" reworks Parker's "Dexterity" into a roiling, machine-gun stream of sound, and "Talin Is Thinking" turns Parker's classic bluesy ballad "Parker's Mood" into a frenetic spiritual jazz workout. Furthermore, just as Parker was often backed by a quintet featuring a trumpeter like the great Dizzy Gillespie, Mahanthappa takes the same approach, bringing with him 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition third-place winner Adam O'Farrill along with pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, and drummer Rudy Royston. Only 20 years old at the time of recording, O'Farrill (the son of pianist Arturo O'Farrill and the grandson of legendary Cuban percussionist, and Parker associate, Chico O'Farrill) is an immensely gifted trumpeter with a robust, rounded tone and lithe improvisational style. Joining with the other members of Mahanthappa's quintet, he brings an intensity and buoyant creativity to Bird Calls that effectively updates the classic Parker/Gillespie partnership. For his end, Mahanthappa, a brilliantly capable improviser blessed with a fluid, harmonically engaging approach to jazz, blazes his way through these songs, which are at once accessible yet boundlessly inventive. Ultimately, with Bird Calls, Mahanthappa has crafted an exuberant, expressive album that's as fresh and surprising as the music Parker originally recorded. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 30, 2011 | ACT Music

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
In his liner notes to Samdhi, saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa states flat-out that his earliest jazz influences were Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers, and the Yellowjackets. What those acts had in common was their direct expression of emotion in melodic forms; their use of electric instruments; and their use of soul, R&B, and funk. Mahanthappa's exploration of jazz eventually expanded to the tradition, from bop to modal to free and post-bop along the way. That said, he's also pointed the way in his journey by adding elements of the Carnatic tradition of South Indian classical music into his playing and compositions. "Samdhi" is a Sanskrit word that translates as "twilight," but its meaning extends to a spiritual context, to the phase that exists between when one age is destroyed and another is born. On this album, Mahanthappa -- who in recent years has also become fascinated with the electronic sounds of dance music as well as hip-hop -- has seamlessly woven together all of his musical interests. This is an electro-acoustic band, whose members include former M-Base guitarist David Gilmore, electric bassist Rich Brown, drummer Damion Reid, and Indian percussionist "Anand" Anantha Krishnan. Mahanthappa plays alto and works loops, sonic processing, and samples via a laptop as well. Samdhi is full of beautifully written tunes, dicey, sophisticated improvisation, and abundant grooves. What's immediately apparent upon listening is how tight and communicative this meld of new jazz, Indian music, and electronic fare really is. While tunes like "Playing with Stones" and "Breakfastlunchanddinnner" get deep into the soulful expression and funkiness of '70s and early-'80s jazz (the latter with a knockout solo by Gilmore), these tunes also have moments when Indian music and its modal spaciousness play a role, too. In "Killer," the swerving, tight-turn head is pure Indian polychromatic invention. And halfway in, Mahanthappa processes his own saxophone solo and doubles it tonally. "Still-Gas" even more effectively marries Indian music to jazz improvisation, even as Gilmore and Brown vamp on forward-looking funk. The ballad "For All the Ladies," with its subdued but rumbling percussion by Krishnan and Reid, is dynamic, melodically rich, and emotionally abundant. Mahanthappa's electric band is completely thrilling throughout Samdhi, playing more as an ensemble than as a soloist's backing group. Ironically, it is their precision that makes this blur of styles a many-colored and textured thing that feels whole and specific as jazz. Fusion? Indeed. But despite the ugly tinge that word has in relation to jazz, it is redefined here because fusion has never sounded like this before. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 7, 2013 | ACT Music

Booklet Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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Contemporary Jazz - Released June 19, 2020 | Whirlwind Recordings

Booklet
Ask jazz nonbelievers why they can't relate and what usually comes back is some variation of: it's too cerebral, it has no sense of humor, it doesn't make me smile. Happily, even the most fervent of the jazz fearful needn't run from Hero Trio. After 15 consistently artful and ambitious albums most often recorded with small groups (including Bird Calls, his 2015 heartfelt tribute to chief influence Charlie Parker), savvy alto sax star Rudresh Mahanthappa steps into the role of jazz superhero with a sprightly all-covers set that's a perfect panacea for these serious times. For those who can relate to jazz, one happy constant is that most players care about how their recordings sound. Engineer David Amlen captures a great balance between the instruments and mix engineer Liberty Ellman crafts a great presence in the final product. Liberated by the choice of material, the alto player and his longtime trio mates, double bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston, all reach for new insight and acuity. Like all truly memorable horn players, Mahanthappa has an instantly recognizable tone and here he wields it with his usual fire and invention, effortlessly gliding between sharp, tightly packed statements to more relaxed lyrical passages and bouncy, funky cuts where again, he is clearly enjoying himself. Nodding again towards Parker who remains a constant presence and infinite wellspring of inspiration in his playing, Hero Trio opens and closes with a pair of impassioned Parker covers, "Red Cross," and "Dewey Square," respectively. An original mashup of Charlie Parker's "Barbados" and John Coltrane's "26-2" (which borrows chord progressions from Parker's "Confirmation") works beautifully. A reflective if not sorrowing mood hovers over Mahanthappa's rumination on Ira Gershwin's "I Can't Get Started," the session's only downbeat note. Best of all, the trio animates the album's two curveballs, Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" with an audible and accessible joy. A near perfect mix of buoyancy and mastery, a welcome revelation. © Robert Baird/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released March 20, 2010 | Innova

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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

If there's any complaint about the creative bond (symbiosis? telepathy?) between alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Vijay Iyer, it's a mutual tendency towards the cerebral and conceptual. It's impossible to deny the freshness of the music but their focus can bring an aura of severity that at times makes you wish the two would just lighten up and have some fun playing. Mother Tongue, Mahanthappa's third disc as a leader, offers no indication of anything other than business as usual at first glance. The disc is part of a larger suite based on the different languages spoken by people from India, supported by grants from major arts-funding organizations. It's an intriguing idea, using the speech patterns drawn from interviews to fashion the music, but still a bit daunting -- severe side again, no? Well, surprise, folks -- maybe it's that good old human dimension, but "The Preserver" takes off like a shot with Mahanthappa's alto flashing a lighter, brighter tone than his familiar tartness. There's something like an orthodox "jazz tune" structure here and Iyer actually comps in a vaguely Monk-ish vein with a light touch. It's way more freewheeling blowing than we're accustomed to from these two, and Mahanthappa blows up another serious storm playing the kind of extended scale runs he rarely employs on the fractured-with-flow "Telugu." The stabbing melody lines to "English," intricate and extended, is more Mahanthappa's norm, with François Moutin's bass prominent as counterpoint. The lighter, lyrical tone returns for the up-tempo "Gujarati," where the cadences of the speech rhythms are apparent. "Circus" is a journey with Elliot Humberto Kavee's drums typically light beneath Iyer trills and Mahanthappa's climbing scalar runs as he explores all the melodic strands he can find. The dynamics drop down for a brief Kavee break-out while Moutin and Iyer support him with fractured near oom-pahs, before it heads for a lush, stately finale except for double-timing on out on the fade. Your basic head-solo-head composition, in other words. Like "Circus," the fragmented "Konkani" finds Iyer filling in some holes in the melody line Mahanthappa is playing -- or maybe it's vice versa because the way these two fit their lines together, you never know what, where, when, or how they're going. And the way the extended, rippling lines tone down behind Moutin's bass lead on "Malayalam" shows it's all four players, because there's little soloist/rhythm sections distinction and who is soloing and who is supporting is pretty much up in the air. "Kannada" is a gorgeous long melody line with a yearning ballad flavor by Mahanthappa -- his tonal range has expanded greatly since Black Water. Iyer's solo there goes cascading down scales, while the slower "Tamil" goes outside with rumbling left-hand clusters that Mahanthappa extends farther. "Change of Perspective" opens with the saxophonist blowing a cappella, picking his spots before unfolding into a gentle ballad that progressively unwinds, speeds up, goes free, and winds back down to a soft landing while remaining organic all the way. Mother Tongue sounds like a major advance from the far-from-shabby Black Water for Rudresh Mahanthappa. As a player, there's a greatly expanded range to his playing and a much wider tonal palette. Technical stuff aside, the human speech element worked wonders, lightening up the music and making it more dynamic. Bet the musicians had some fun developing the ideas and playing around with the material, and that's always nice to hear, especially with these guys. © Don Snowden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 2, 2010 | Clean Feed

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Jazz - Released July 9, 2013 | Clean Feed

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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

Codebook is led by altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa but the quartet is very much a democracy, even if Mahanthappa contributed all of the selections. Bassist François Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss are both very active players even when backing the saxophonist and, although pianist Vijay Iyer's playing is subtle, he is also an important force in setting the moods and the grooves of the music. Mahanthappa shows a great deal of versatility, ranging from lines on "Wait It Through" that are worthy of Anthony Braxton to hints of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Greg Osby and Steve Coleman. However, he also has his own approach, and he sounds nothing like his predecessors when he caresses the melody of "My Sweetest." This is a thought-provoking set of fiery but coherent music. Recommended. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

This collaborative album between two alto saxophonists of different generations but similar character is a fascinating if somewhat overlong (77-plus minutes!) encounter that demonstrates the power of what's known as the "inside-outside" approach to jazz. Mahanthappa, the younger of the two men, is known for his fusions of post-bop saxophone with classical Indian music -- indeed, on his 2004 release Mother Tongue, he took it one step further, and performed compositions based on the tonalities of people speaking various Indian languages. If this sounds like a hyper-cerebral exercise, something almost Braxtonian in its capacity to alienate casual listeners, well then Apex is the ideal counter. A hard-swinging disc that pairs Mahanthappa with Bunky Green, a 1960s player whose best-received work emerged in the late '70s, Apex finds the two hornmen backed by a powerhouse all-star band including newly minted MacArthur fellow Jason Moran on piano, bassist François Moutin, and drummers Damion Reid and Jack DeJohnette switching off. Everyone gets spotlight time, Mahanthappa and Green play distinctively enough that each is identifiable despite the fact that they're both on alto, and the music maintains an adventurous but grooving hard bop feel. A concise 40- to 45-minute running time might have been more enticing to non-diehards, but while the 15-minute album closer may seem particularly intimidating, it's actually two pieces, the nine-minute "The Journey" and then a five-minute sax-drums duet to bring things to a gentle close. © Phil Freeman /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 30, 2017 | Pi Recordings

For Kinsmen, Rudresh Mahanthappa's fifth album as leader, he trades in his standard sax quartet for the hybrid American jazz/South Indian classical Dakshina Ensemble, co-led by Carnatic saxophone legend Kadri Gopalnath. Guitar, bass, and drum kit are joined by violin and mridangam and the leaders' two saxophones; meeting squarely between the two traditions. There is a strong Indian flavor to the soloing of both Gopalnath and his longtime violin player A. Kanyakumari, and the melodies are Indian inspired but the music only sounds purely Carnatic in spots. No, this is a jazz album and it swings mightily through most of the program. There are five main pieces, each with a solo instrumental introduction (known in Indian music as the alap) by a different player (OK, only four pieces get an alap, but one piece gets two of them). After Rudresh's alap ("Introspection"), the band charges out with the scorching "Ganesha." "Longing" is as languid and bittersweet as the title suggests. "Snake!" has a very Carnatic sounding beginning with just violin, sax, and mridangam before giving way to an uptempo "snake" charmer vibe which opens into a jazzier guitar/sax conversation then back to "snake" charming. "Kalyani" is more contemplative with a really nice faux sitar solo from Rez Abbasi. "Convergence (Kinsmen)" could well be the album highlight, with great soloing all around and, as on "Snake"!, some particularly hot drumming from royal hartigan. Abbasi's double-timing of the melody is great too. The tunes are written with excellent countermelodies and everyone takes full advantage of the ample solo space throughout the album while never losing sight of the melody. Another interesting thing is the way instruments will sit out at times, creating a more intimate conversational space like between the sax and mridangam on "Kalyani," or the guitar/bass/mridangam and sax/drum kit sections of "Convergence (Kinsmen)." It's also really interesting to contrast the sax styles of Mahanthappa and Gopalnath (they're easy to tell apart) because they're coming to common ground from very different traditions. Others have attempted a similar melding of traditions: John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan cut a couple records together and John McLaughlin had his original Shakti project around the same time (mid-'70s). But both those projects were more firmly rooted in Indian music. As great as some of that material is, Kinsmen is arguably a more successful fusion of the two traditions since it blends them more equally. Regardless, it's one great album. In releasing Kinsmen and Amir ElSaffar's Two Rivers (which also features Rudresh and bass player Carlo De Rosa), Pi Recordings is pointing the way to some fascinating new directions in jazz. Very well done. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo