Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hybrid Energy
AAJ: Fiuczynski recently joined your quartet. How does his microtonal approach complement what you do?
RM: It's interesting because I have a handle on a good bit of the microtonal stuff, but not to the degree that Fuze does. He works with a 72-note octave in which he's dividing the half-steps into six parts. That's virtually impossible to do on a saxophone, though I'm sure someone is doing it out there. I can do a good amount of quarter tone stuff, either finger-wise or through manipulating embouchure. Within Jack's band, things are really interesting because we can do some real ornamented stuff that's South Indian gamaka-like which is really nice. But the idea of us doing something in which we write music that has that within the composition is something Fuze and I are pursuing, together with François Moutin and Dan Weiss. Fuze and I have a really interesting interaction happening. If he's doing the microtonal thing and I'm playing the melody straight, a really cool rub happens that works. It works because we're not playing the same instrument, so it becomes a timbral thing. It's almost like the pitch difference turns it into that. So, that's really cool.
AAJ: What were the key lessons that emerged through your work with Kadri Gopalnath?
RM: It was obviously great to play with him, but if there were any life lessons, it was just him talking about happiness and family. At one point, we were traveling and playing gigs and he would say "You know, you have to take care of your wife." And it's something so obvious, but there was something about the way he said it that made me go "Man, no shit. I do need to do that." [laughs] And he said "You need to buy property, because property can be passed down to your kids." He would also talk about deriving joy from playing music. It's easy for us as jazz musicians to maybe think what we're doing is more important than communicating and reaching an audienceyou know, that idea of music for music's sake and the "I don't care what people think" mentality. It can be easy to believe "What I'm doing is amazing or important." Kadri has done so much that's new for Carnatic music, yet he always talks about reaching the audience. He and I were talking about another saxophonist once and he said "I heard him and wondered if an audience likes this?" And I remember thinking "Wow, maybe not, actually." [laughs] The saxophonist I'm talking about has so much emphasis on being new and interesting, but is he communicating something to a broader base? Every conversation Kadri and I had about music, our interaction, and where jazz and Carnatic music intersect, had an undertone of "We have to reach an audience, whoever it is." I feel I have to be reminded of that for sure. There's so much joy when he's playingnot that I don't experience the same thing. I do when I play, but he's just a special person. It's funny, Bunky and Kadri are two halves of the same person to me. [laughs] I'm both of those guys put together, or at least that's what I want to be when I grow up.
AAJ: You've said you pushed Gopalnath into Western harmonic territory, which was a challenge for him. How did you grow as a musician working with him?