Officially, Black Water
is the second album by alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa.
( The Preserver, a blazing follow-up to 1997's Yatra, remains in the can.) Commissioned by the American Composers Forum, this powerful suite deals in part with the difficulty of immigration, not only for those who make the journey but also their progeny - people like Mahanthappa and pianist Vijay Iyer, both first-generation Indian-Americans. The two have cemented their musical partnership by way of Iyer's own quartet (see last year's Panoptic Modes, also on Red Giant) and an ongoing duo project called Raw Materials. It is largely their rhythmic and harmonic rapport that regulates Black Water's volatile tides.
Mahanthappa's music is highly active, influenced mainly by M-Base and non-Western rhythmic concepts. When he's in full gear, his lines practically overload the senses with their sheer velocity and timbral bite. But this new opus has a contemplative side; episodes like "Viraha" and "Faith" find him entering an incantational space that he carries off quite uniquely, his Indian influences coming to the fore. Titles like "What's a Jazz?" and "Are There Clouds In India?" seem to gently mock the child-like befuddlement that can accompany a first encounter with a foreign culture. The former cut, with a twisted contrapuntal head that almost sounds like a knowing update of "Ah-Leu-Cha", finds bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee delighting in a furious solo exchange. On "Joe Made the Face" (dedicated to Joe Viola), Iyer and Mahanthappa practically achieve a mind-meld, playing the tune's accelerating unison lines with a near-perfect symmetry. Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel displayed a comparable hook-up on "Bo Brussels", from Turner's In This World (Warner Bros.). This kind of elevation and refinement is not simply a cut above the norm; it arguably redefines the norm.
This review first appeared in the November 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .
Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer: piano; Francois Moutin: bass; Elliot Humberto Kavee: drums.