Rudresh Mahanthappa / Kadri Gopalnath: Kinsmen (2008)
Kinsmen is the physical actualization of a long path that started with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's desire to create a music that is a hybrid (not a fusion) of American jazz and classical Indian Carnatic music. Improvisation is central to both aesthetics with differing emphases, embodied primarily in the playing of Mahanthappa and alto saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, the "Emperor of the Saxophone" in India.
Both players have worked to extend their playing from its base, either the West or the East, into the other worldMahanthappa exploring his roots and Gopalnath his restless musical imaginationand have met in the middle. The result is a music that never remains in either world for very long, constantly vacillating rhythmically, harmonically and melodically between its poles.
The album itself is a tightened version of an initial (and phenomenal) concert at the Asia Society in New York City and was recorded about a week afterwards, following a subsequent short tour. While the visuals are obviously lost, what is heard here accurately transmits the excitement and sheer ecstasy that flowed from the stage for two hours.
From the first notes of the opening track "Introspection," the meaning of hybrid is made patently clear as Mahanthappa plays a beautiful and almost pure Carnatic line over guitarist Rez Abassi's droneWest meeting East on its terms. However, this runs directly into "Ganesh," a very, very deep blues built on a funky riff introduced by Mahanthappa. After a number of repetitions increases the tension, the full band explodes, with East now meeting West on its terms.
Violinist A. Kanyakumari and percussionist Poovalur Sriji join Gopalnath, while drummer royal hartigan and bassist Carlo de Rosa support Mahanthappa and Abassi. The ensuing group sound is full of wonderful rhythmic and phrasing collisions as this "Indian blues" proceeds, with Gopalnath's solo on the chord change showing that the blues pentatonic and the Indian scales are not really that far apart at all. Perhaps the most surprising player is Kanyakumari, who tears it up after Abassi's solo, playing Carnatic blues and giving everyone, including Gopalnath, a run for their money.
After this track sets the tone, the album moves through several alaps or solos by Abassi, de Rosa, Gopalnath and Kanyakumari that alternate with longer tracks, each of which deeply investigates a different emotion.
The music is joyful and very cool, while also maintaining ecstatic spirituality as it oscillates between worlds. Mahanthappa and Gopalnath set out to create a music that "ventures well beyond the label of 'Indo-Jazz fusion'" while being "an opening of a new door for Indo-Jazz collaboration," and they have succeeded magnificently.
Kinsmen is an utter delight that can be played over and over as its many levels, complexities and emotions continually surface, merge and mutate.
Track Listing: Introspection; Ganesha; Rez-Alap; Longing; Snake!; Carlo-Alap; Kalyani; Kadri-Alap; Kanya-Alap; Convergence (Kinsmen).
Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Kadri Gopalnath: alto saxophone; A. Kanyakumari: violin; Rez Abassi: guitar; Poovalur Sriji: mridangam; Carlo de Rosa: bass; royal hartigan: drums.