The latest album by India-born saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa explores the connection between language and music, ancestry and contemporary American life. Continually asked by Americans, "Do you speak Indian?" or "Do you speak Hindu?", Mahanthappa has answered by basing the recording on the sounds of speech. With a population of one billion people and numerous ethnic groups, India has 22 official languages. The saxophonist had Indian-American friends leave answers to the questions on his voice mail in their language. He then melodically transcribed them. Seven of the tunes are based on these responses.
Fans of the dissonant playing styles of Ornette Coleman and Greg Osby will most appreciate this unique recording. Like the legendary Coleman, Mahanthappa wails on these ten compositions that seldom let up. For jazz fans, the most accessible tunes are the sheets of sound Coltrane-like "The Preserver" and "English," with its slightly funky pulse. Although the seven languages are dissimilar, the saxophonist's sound on most songs is comparable, the difference being the rhythm and tone of each. The languid "Kannada" and "Tamil" offer an oasis of repose in tunes that otherwise blaze with fire.
This is dense, complex, and challenging music. When heard all in one sitting, the senses can easily go into overload mode. Mother Tongue is best appreciated one song at a time. In that sense, the parts are better than the whole.
Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa- alto sax; Vijay Iyer- piano; Francois Moutin- bass;
Elliot Humberto Kavee- drums