Rudresh Mahanthappa Albright Knox Art Gallery Buffalo, NY January, 27 2013
It is no secret that modern jazz musicians often draw upon multiple cultures when creating their art.
In saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's case, he begins by meshing traditional music from India along with influences ranging from the Middle East to the East Village, from blues, progressive rock to funk and just about anything else you might care to name.
The results are stunning in their sonic diversity, striding across genres with a clearly focused intensity that astonishes and unnerves in equal measure. Gamak is a ferociously talented quartet, featuring composer and front man Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, along with guitarist David Fiuczynski
playing in support. Everybody had standout moments, as the music allowed space for solos and duos, along with moments where the interplay was so tightly wound that telepathy could be suspected.
All of this was evident from the opening moments of the program as "Waiting Is Forbidden" featured Mahanthappa's funk-inspired phrasing and Fiuczynski's hot riffing. They formed the base for the rhythm section to drive the angular melody for a few moments before handing the sonic reins back to the bandleader. It was jazz, complete with improvisatory passages that introduced each of the musicians and their talents, but there were also a few measures that wouldn't have been out of place in a Robert Fripp
. The unique phrasing and low end notes evoked images of Georgia circa 1969.
Fiuczynski's double-neck guitarfretless on top, fretted on the bottomand battery of electronics allowed him plenty of opportunity to slip from sitar-like tones to pedal-driven distortions. Weiss' supple approach to tabla-inspired rhythms on his drum kit and Moutin's energetic bass lines pushed and pulled the pulse of the music to fit the needs of the moment.
When it came down to it, however, this was Mahanthappa's gig, his artistic vision guiding the results. No matter how pleasant things were between the players onstage, there was none of this "first among equals" stuff. He wrote the tunes, left room for the others to operate and made sure that everybody followed his lead.
When he nodded his head or looked a certain way at the band members, Mahanthappa was also a conductor, in command of who was playing what when. The band members all had their moments, spots where they got to show their mettle, but his solos were the most consistently arresting.
Mahanthappa was named Downbeat Magazine's Alto Saxophonist of 2012, and showed why, on this night in Buffalo, straddling the line between modern jazz and progressive rock.