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Rudresh Mahanthappa / Bunky Green: Apex

Mark F. Turner By

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Apex is an alto sax summit of huge proportions—a prodigious work of collaboration and stirring performances—boasting Rudresh Mahanthappa, one of today's rising stars, and Bunky Green, a lesser known master who has influenced innovators such as Greg Osby and Steve Coleman. Like another memorable 2010 release, Dual Identity (Clean Feed), which featured Mahanthappa and alto conceptualist Steve Lehman, the music here is another no-holds-barred outing between seminal artists.

Though there's a 36 year age difference, Mahanthappa's fearless horn is equally matched by Green who, impressively at 75, continues to peel the paint off walls with an angular style—once touring with Charles Mingus' band in his early twenties, and heard on his own Another Place (Label Bleu, 2006). Backed by a stellar cast of players, Apex is not just the meeting of young and old lions (a one-time debilitating term), but about two artists that share a camaraderie, vision, and affirmation of the alto legacy.

An array of robust experiences is witnessed, with drum duties split between the great Jack DeJohnette and younger firebrand Damion Reid, plus invigorating work by stalwarts bassist Francois Moutin and pianist Jason Moran. Indian-influenced roots surface in Mahanthappa's "Welcome," where his biting horn issues a spellbinding incantation that preludes "Summit," a track where the two similar-toned horns trade fiercely, the music swinging hard, and a powerful spotlight shining on DeJohnette's continued prowess.

Mahanthappa's past music has been criticized for being "overly cerebral" at times, but here he delivers a balance between complex and mainstream musical concepts. Opening with Moutin's splendid bass solo, "Soft"'s languid blues slowly transforms into a demanding staccato tempo, before reverting back to its original form. "Playing with Stones" combines South Indian music with a tight groove that is no small feat, the band working out the details with exacting precision and inspiration.

Moran's empathetic notes are sweet repose in "Lamenting," an earnest setup for Greene's flight pattern in "Eastern Echoes," as Reid salvos in tandem with Mahanthappa's coarse voice. "Little Girl" and "Rainer and Theresia" are evidence of the elder's lyricism and soul; each containing a timeless and enduring quality that could rank with any well-known standard.

If there's one track that highlights the two saxophonist's similarities, then it would be "Who?." The appropriately titled composition is volcanic—horns moving in quick jagged bursts, chromatic maneuvers, thrusts and parries. The band is also in step, especially Moran's eccentric soloing and comping.

There are surprises to be found in multiple listens, including a hidden track at the end of the recording. Apex is the fruitful meeting of two profound alto stylists—individualists whose voices are at once recognizable—and one of the most enjoyable recordings of 2010.

Track Listing: Welcome; Summit; Soft; Playing with Stones; Lamenting; Eastern Echoes; Little Girl, I'll Miss You; Who?; Rainer and Theresia; The Journey.

Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Bunky Green: alto saxophone; Jason Moran: piano; François Moutin: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums (1, 2, 9, 10); Damion Reid: drums (3-8).

Title: Apex | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Pi Recordings


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