Bobby Zankel, Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, and Rudresh Mahanthappa at Montgomery County Community College
In the relaxed mood of a poised and gentle giant, Mahanthappa explained his extended theme and variations, "Dasha," as a derivative of a favorite childhood version of the story of a Hindu god, wielding a favorite comic book from his own youth as the inspiration for the music. Pianist Tom Lawton later told me that the movements were listed on the score as simply: #1, Dasha, #2.5, #3, Drums, Saxophones, Flute, Out, and Finale. The entire piece exudes energy that challenges the musicians' ability to keep up with it, which they did quite admirably. Mahanthappa's soloing displayed diaphragmatic power and flawless rapidity, but he was careful not to dominate or overshadow the other musicians, allowing for fine solos by Brian Rogers on trumpet, Larry Toft and Joe McDonough on trombone, Brian Rogers and Zankel himself on alto sax, and other band members as well. Most amazing were the flute solos of Elliot Levin, who sat off to the side near the piano, not only contributing some brilliantly original "choruses" but, in one segment, singing a melodic line underneath his own flute playing.
In the true spirit of "world music," Mahanthappa's playing and composing interweaves the American jazz idiom with Indian raga and popular music into a seamless fabric of high-energy sounds. Indian music contains notes that are not to be found in the Western diatonic scale, and jazz, with its blue notes, "bends" the diatonic scale but in a different way. Somehow, Mahanthappa fuses the music of the two cultures in a manner that makes perfect aesthetic sense. This can only occur in the context of modal rather than harmonic playing, an approach that Miles Davis introduced in the ground-breaking album Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and which has since gone off in multiple directions, including polyrhythmic and polytonal manifestations that Mahanthappa appears to love to exploit to the fullest extent. The future of jazz lies very likely in the sort of multicultural influences of which Mahanthappa's work is exemplary.
The first meeting of Mahanthappa and Zankel took place at the former's performance at Philadelphia's famed "Painted Bride" and must have resembled the famous understated encounter of Livingstone and Stanley near Lake Tanganyika in Africa: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" The two musicians are kindred spirits almost pre- destined to meet up and work together. In this concert, both showed an interest in mythological inspirations and complex forms, a shared curiosity which makes for profound collaboration.
The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound: Bobby Zankel: alto sax, composer, and Music Director.
Members of the Ensemble: Dan Peterson: alto sax; Elliot Levin: flute and tenor sax; Brian Rogers: tenor sax; Patrick Hughes, Tom Majeda, Bart Miltenberger, Adam Herschberger: trumpets; Joe McDonough, Larry Toft, Dan Blacksberg: trombones; Dan Scofield: baritone sax; Tom Lawton: piano; Anthony Tidd: bass; Craig McGiver, drums.
Special Guest: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto sax, composer.
Visit Rudresh Mahanthappa on the web.