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Rudresh Mahanthappa: Agrima

Dan McClenaghan By

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The music of India is ancient, centuries old. The saxophone is new, with a history of less than a hundred years. Ditto for the "electric" guitar. First generation Indian-American alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa marries the old and new in his music, on his most compelling recording to date, Agrima, featuring his Indo-Pak Coalition, featuring "electric" guitarist Rez Abbasi and tabla-ist/drummer Dan Weiss.

Mahanthappa—who now chairs the jazz department at Princeton University—rode to a higher profile via pianist Vijay Iyer's quartet, beginning with Panoptic Modes (Red Giant Records, 2001). He began as—and he continues to evolve as—one of the most distinctives alto saxophone voices in jazz, a sound that is instantly identifiable: the keening tone, the blistering runs of stinging notes, the relentless rhythmic force. You can pick him out in a blindfold contest in about three seconds flat. He always brings his roots with him, even in a context of Latin Jazz, as he does so brilliantly  on the Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra's Cuba: the Conversation Continues (Motema Records, 2015).

Agrima builds on the foundation of Mahanthappa's previous set by the his Indo-Pak Coalition, Apti (Innova Records, 2008), with something of a different complexion via the addition of electronics. It's a music flowing up from a deep tradition that finds a way to sound innovative and modernistic. Dan Weiss, who stuck with the tabla on Apti, adds the drum set here, adding another dimension to the sound.

The music is often fierce, sometimes hypnotic. Mahanthappa's searing saxophone careens over Weiss' rock solid rhythm and Abbasi's mesmeric guitar on "Rasikapriya."  "Alap," the brief opener, begins with Abbasi's electro-sacred tone. Weiss' tabla bubbles in, a luminescent sparkle of electronics paints a bright backdrop, and Mahanthappa's saxophone offers up a tranquil prayer. Then it's off into an insistent, cutting-edge, twenty-first century foray into the sounds of southern Asia—the deep roots—blended with the newer, growing roots  American jazz improvisation.

Track Listing: Alap; Snap; Showcase; Agrima; Can-Did; Rasikapriya; Revati; Take-Turns.

Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone, electronics; Rez Abbasi: guitar, electronics; Dan Weiss: tabla, drums.

Title: Agrima | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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