48 Sounds of Home and Heroes – Rudresh Mahanthappa

Rudresh Mahanthappa

In the 13 years since 2008, the alto saxophone award in the annual Jazz Journalists Association awards program has gone to either Rudresh Mahanthappa or Miguel Zenón 10 times. Despite having very different sounds and approaches to the saxophone, their creative paths have much in common. Both began recording around the turn of the century. Both have paid homage to major alto heroes – Mahantahappa to Charlie Parker and Zenón to Ornette Coleman. And both have explored the intersection of their cultural roots with jazz – Mahanthappa bringing South-Asian music into his work and Zenón celebrating his Puerto Rican roots – illustrating how jazz is becoming steadily more international. Over the next two programs, we will look at highlights of the last decade in the works of these commanding alto players, starting with Rudresh Mahanthapa in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

As Dan McClenaghan wrote on AllAboutJazz in 2017, Rudresh Mahanthappa “began as—and he continues to evolve as—one of the most distinctive alto saxophone voices in jazz, a sound that is instantly identifiable: the keening tone, the blistering runs of stinging notes, the relentless rhythmic force. You can pick him out in a blindfold contest in about three seconds flat [and he] always brings his roots with him…”

Apex from 2010 is largely an inter-generational collaboration between Mahanthappa and fellow altoist Bunky Green. Of that disc, Troy Collins wrote, “A rising star, Mahanthappa’s partiality for intricate structures based on mathematical and linguistic concepts has occasionally resulted in his work being labeled overly cerebral, though his burgeoning interest in South Indian Karnatic music has won him great acclaim in recent years.” That interest is on full display in the “jubilant funk of Playing with Stones,” a quartet recording with Jason Moran on piano, Francois Moutin on bass and Damion Reed on drums.

Also in 2010, Mahanthappa made a commanding guest appearance on the disc Providencia from pianist Danilo Pérez, responding to the Latin groove from Pérez with long-time collaborators Ben Street on bass and Adam Cruz on drums augmented by percussionists Jamey Haddad and Ernesto Diaz on Galactic Panama. Mahanthappa and Pérez finish off the disc with two duets, The Maze: the Beginning and The Maze: The End.

Playing with Stones. Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Jason Moran-p, Francois Moutin-b, Damion Reed-d). From Apex. Pi Recordings. 2010
Galactic Panama. Danilo Pérez Quintet
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Danilo Pérez-p/key/per/melodica, Ben Street-b, Jamey Haddad-per, Ernesto Diaz-cga). From Providencia. Mack Avenue. 2010
The Maze: the Beginning. Danilo Pérez – Rudresh Mahanthappa Duo
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Danilo Pérez-p). From Providencia. Mack Avenue. 2010
The Maze: the End. Danilo Pérez – Rudresh Mahanthappa Duo
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Danilo Pérez-p). From Providencia. Mack Avenue. 2010

In 2015, Mahanthappa recorded a tribute to Charlie Parker, Bird Calls with a quintet that included rising trumpet star Adam O’Farrill, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, and drummer Rudy Royston. As Victor L. Schermer writes on AllAboutJazz, “The tunes of the album are punctuated with a series of Bird Calls. The first track, Bird Calls #1, is a possible reference to Parker as a mysterious or mystical figure, starting with an antediluvian touch reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, one of Parker’s favorite pieces of classical music. This mysterious beginning evolves into an East Indian ‘raga’ melody, reflecting Mahanthappa’s own cultural origins.”

We will also hear the tune Gopuram. “A ‘gopura’ is a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of any temple, especially in Southern India. The devotees typically run around the gopura after worship, so Mahanthappa’s Gopuram is a Hindu variant of Parker’s Steeplechase. The melody is like an Indian “raga” and, like much of Mahanthappa’s output, shows the resilience of the jazz idiom. Jazz can take tunes from vastly different cultures, add some juice to them, and give them new life.”

Mahanthappa’s 2017 offering Agrima, is a project of his Indo-Pak Coalition, featuring guitarist Rez Abbasi and tabla-ist/drummer Dan Weiss. Per Dan McClenaghan, “The music is often fierce, sometimes hypnotic. Alap, the brief opener, begins with Abbasi’s electro-sacred tone. Weiss’ tabla bubbles in, a luminescent sparkle of electronics paints a bright backdrop, and Mahanthappa’s saxophone offers up a tranquil prayer. Then it’s off into an insistent, cutting-edge, twenty-first century foray into the sounds of southern Asia—the deep roots—blended with the newer, growing roots of American jazz improvisation.”

Bird Calls #1. Rudresh Mahanthappa Quintet
(Adam O’Farrill-tp, Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Matt Mitchell-p, François Moutin-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Bird Calls. ACT. 2015
Gopuram. Rudresh Mahanthappa Quintet
(Adam O’Farrill-tp, Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Matt Mitchell-p, François Moutin-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Bird Calls. ACT. 2015
Alap. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Rez Abassi-g, Dan Weiss-tabla/d). From Agrima. Self-Produced. 2017
Can-Did. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Rez Abassi-g, Dan Weiss-tabla/d). From Agrima. Self-Produced. 2017

In 2020, Mahanthappa recorded a tribute to several of his musical heroes in a trio with his regular collaborators Francois Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. While his influence from Charlie Parker was celebrated on Bird Calls, the new disc Hero Trio also acknowledges his debt to a diverse group that includes Ornate Coleman, Keith Jarrett and Johnny Cash. We will listen to his Indian-inflected version of Bird’s Red Cross and Keith Jarrett’s tune The Windup.

Red Cross. Rudresh Mahanthappa Trio
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Francois Moutin-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Hero Trio. Whirlwind Recordings. 2020
The Windup. Rudresh Mahanthappa Trio
(Rudresh Mahanthappa-as, Francois Moutin-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Hero Trio. Whirlwind Recordings. 2020

Rudresh Mahanthappa releases remarkable records at a steady clip as he has done over the past two decades, cementing his reputation as one of the leading alto saxophonists in improvised music. By honoring the musical heritage of South-Asia, he adds a new richness to the mix.

Resources

Collins, Troy. (2010, November 2). AllAboutJazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa / Bunky Green: Apex. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/apex-rudresh-mahanthappa-pi-recordings-review-by-troy-collins.php

Barron, John. (2010, July 13). AllAboutJazz. Danilo Perez: Providencia. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/providencia-danilo-perez-mack-avenue-records-review-by-john-barron.php

Schermer, Victor L. (2015, January 13). AllAboutJazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/rudresh-mahanthappa-bird-calls-by-victor-l-schermer.php

McClenaghan, Dan. (2017, October 18). Rudresh Mahanthappa: Agrima. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/agrima-rudresh-mahanthappa-self-produced-review-by-dan-mcclenaghan.php

Wilson, Jerome. (2020, August 24). AllAboutJazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/hero-trio-rudresh-mahanthappa-whirlwind-recordings__8927

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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