Rudresh Mahanthappa: Codebook (2006)
CD/DVD Reviewer since 2003Jeff listens to as much recorded music as he can.
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Ever since Charlie Parker redefined the instrument, speed has been the stock and trade of the alto saxophonist. Find some sidemen who can keep up with you and you've got something. On Codebook, Rudresh Mahanthappa's quartet is rounded out by bassist François Moutin, drummer Dan Weiss and pianist Vijay Iyer, a constant compadre. Is Iyer a complement to Mahanthappa (and vice versa), or are they actually two of a kind? The knock on both of them has been that they can be cerebral to a fault, and their music gives you the impression that it's being made by the smartest kids in the class. They don't coast on pure talent, though. Their achievement comes from hard work and their pieces are challenging, high-intensity experiences.
The Mahanthappa quartet's last release on Pi Recordings (Mother Tongue, 2004), offered compositions based on and inspired by language. On this recording, the music takes its cue from cryptography, strengthening the connection between mathematics and the act of composing. The band plays with space and time as if twirling spaghetti on a fork, tightly if possible, but just as often letting the tunes unfurl, as on the lilting swing of "D (Dee Dee).
When the quartet locks into repetitious patterns ("Enhanced Performance ), going faster seems to be the only way out, and more often than not the music is forced to stop short. Fortunately, Moutin and Weiss are as adept at applying the brakes as they are at stepping on the gas. Even "My Sweetest, the closest thing on the disc to a ballad, has its teeth clenched, threatening to take off, just as every other cut does on Codebook.
Track Listing: The Decider; Refresh; Enhanced Performance; Further and in Between; Play It Again Sam; Frontburner; D (Dee Dee); Wait It Through; My Sweetest.
Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer: piano; Francois Moutin: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.