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Interviews

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hybrid Energy

By Published: May 2, 2011
RM: It was interesting because Bunky made it very clear from the beginning that he didn't want to play any odd meters, or play in 5, 11 or 13. What he said was "I could practice and get it together, but it'll never feel comfortable. And if I don't feel comfortable, it's not about making music anymore." For him, it was more important to find vehicles to highlight what we do, and our interaction as improvisers. So, we agreed we would each write four or five tunes for the project. I thought to myself "How can I write a blues, a rhythm changes tune and a "modal" tune at this point, when I haven't written anything like that since my early college or late high school days? How can I do that and still have my voice present in that?" I also needed to create something that leads to a lot of healthy, productive interaction within the ensemble as well. So, that's exactly what I did. I wrote a blues, a rhythm changes tune, a modal tune, and a couple of other things. [laughs] Bunky's tunes very much have form and chords and all that, but there's a little bit of looseness in how we can play the melodies and how they dovetail off each other. They are very dialog-oriented, like we're talking to each other within them. It was also really about trying to bring the band as a unit to life. Arrangement-wise, we tried a lot of different things. A lot was right on the spot, in that as soon as we played it, we said "Oh, that sounds great. I guess that's the take for the record." [laughs] That was really cool and fun. We had two days to do the album, so we were able to play around with lots of different scenarios within the tunes we had. We didn't actually write any music together, but we each wrote with the project in mind.

AAJ: Describe the dynamic of the rest of the group and how it informed the proceedings.

RM: I never really worried about that aspect of it. I knew all those guys would show up with their "A game." It was fun to hear Jason Moran, François Moutin and Jack DeJohnette, and Jason, François and Damion Reid. I knew the hook-up with either rhythm section, regardless of drummer, was going to be seriously good. Jason really brought something special to the project too. He has an incredible way of knowing when to play and when not to play, and when to vary density. I remember thinking at one point that I wish Jason was playing more, but then when I heard it back on tape, I thought "Oh wow, this is perfect. He's seeing outside of it while he's in it." Jack and Bunky were on it right away and that was really cool. On one of the bonus tracks, they play a duet on "Seashells," one of Bunky's older tunes from his Healing the Pain album. It has this crazy, intervallic melody. I really wanted Bunky to record that again with Jack. I thought it would be really cool. Not that Bunky playing it with Freddy Waits is chopped liver. But it was really fun to see them play together and witness that shared history pouring out of them. It was exciting for me, and for them too. They were honored to be playing with each other.

AAJ: What's the future of the group?

RM: There will be more concerts in Europe and North America. We're really pushing it on all fronts. I think the group definitely has a future. I was very clear with Bunky when we were talking about doing Apex. I said "I want to record a group that's going to play gigs." With Kinsmen, I got very lucky given that we made an album and didn't play many gigs, yet it still got a lot of attention and did really well. I think that's a rare occurrence. Bunky is at a point where he's winding down his teaching career. He's not definitely going to retire, but he's teaching less than he ever has. He really wants to get out there and play again, so it's good timing.

AAJ: You mentioned you're also part of DeJohnette's new band. How did that opportunity come about?

RM: That's kind of funny. I actually played a gig with Jack at the Chicago Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend in 1997. Then I moved to New York three weeks later. It was Von Freeman
Von Freeman
Von Freeman
1922 - 2012
sax, tenor
's 75th birthday and they said he could choose to play with whoever he wants. I was flattered he asked me to play a couple of tunes with him. He brought Jack in for that gig and that was the first time we met. We kind of hit it off when we hung out. I told him I was moving to New York City and he said "Oh man, when you get there, give me a call." That's what everybody says, but everybody is actually really busy. I did call him a few times and he said "It would be good to play, but I'm busy right now. Let's talk again in April. It'll be a little looser then." So, I'd call in April and he'd say "It's kind of busy, can you call me in July?" I know he's extremely busy and he doesn't really know me from anybody else, you know? I figured it I ever did play with Jack, it wouldn't just happen because I kept calling him.


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