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Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hybrid Energy

By Published: May 2, 2011
We all talked on-and-off about doing something for a while but needed the right opportunity. Ronan still lives in Dublin and Chander was living in Amsterdam, though he recently moved to Paris. So, it wasn't like we could rehearse on a whim. My quartet was booked for the Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales and Dublin's Improvised Music Company (IMC), an amazing presenting organization, contacted me about bringing my quartet to the Kilkenny Arts Festival. That was not financially feasible for them, so I suggested premiering this trio. They loved the idea. We rehearsed for a day before the gig and we had the instant hook-up we all expected and the gig was a great success.

AAJ: Describe the chemistry you all share.

RM: We all have similar influences within both jazz and non-Western music, but have garnered similar but different information and resultant musical attitudes from those sources. We see eye-to-eye, but simultaneously learn a lot from each other. We also have a penchant for groove. I had written several pieces for my quartet that I never recorded and they ended up being perfect for this trio. The rhythmic propulsion is second to none, as far as I'm concerned. The tunes are rather skeletal in nature, but fill up very nicely as we are all playing rhythm, harmony and melody at once. Our roles are flexible and we seem to break down some of the preconceived notions of what a saxophone trio can do or is supposed to do.

AAJ: That's one silly band name and album title.

RM: It's just the first letters of our last names. They didn't want to help me find a name so I went with what was easy and funny. MSG makes everything taste good. That's our motto. [laughs] IMC ran with it and set up a photo shoot in a noodle shop. Tasty! seemed like a great name for the album—at least to me!

AAJ: You lead or co-lead several bands. What's your philosophy as a bandleader?

RM: I feel like I'm getting to the point at which I can relinquish control. I can let go and trust the people I'm playing with or trust the situation when I don't know the musicians so well. I think I've been a control freak a lot with not only how things get recorded, but how stuff manifests itself live. Take Dan Weiss for example. No matter what happens, he can make great music out of a situation. It can be something that wasn't planned or even a train wreck, and he will make music out of it. So, it seemed to me there was another means to the same end, musically-speaking, that's really fun. I feel, especially if it's a situation that's already established, that I can provide less direction and we can intuit our way along, which is great. I'm grateful for that. And when I play with Vijay Iyer, there's a huge kind of ESP thing happening there. Even if we don't talk about anything, it'll probably be pretty smoking, so that's really cool. I'm trying to set up scenarios and structures that will highlight everyone's strengths and push us all to places we wouldn't normally go. That's what I'm more and more concerned with. I'm also more and more grateful and ecstatic to play with who I play with these days. I remember a time when it was more about me. It was "Oh, we have to play this because it will show I can do X, Y and Z really well." I don't give a rat's ass about that anymore. It's so unimportant.

AAJ: You toured as a special guest with Nguyen Le
Nguyen Le
Nguyen Le
's trio last November. How did you hook up with him?

RM: I've always loved Nguyên's stuff. He's like me. He's always onto the next project and has a million things happening. He's a few years older than me and has a lot of traction in his career. He's had great support from his label A.C.T. which has helped him build his career, and that's fabulous—he really deserves it. I had seen him play in Europe and checked out his videos. I was kind of intimidated by him, really. He's just playing all this heavy shit. He'll have a project playing Vietnamese folk songs and play the fuck out of those. Then he's playing Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
1942 - 1970
guitar, electric
tunes and playing the shit out of them. I was like "Who is this guy? I was kind of afraid to even say hi to him. [laughs] It was like "What am I going to say to you? You're running things as far as I'm concerned." Then one day, I got a two-word message from him through MySpace that said "Great music!" I wrote back through MySpace and said "Thanks, let's play and see what happens." He responded saying he was going to do some shows in the States and asked if I would be a special guest with his trio. He thought I'd be a good fit. I thought so too.

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