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Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls

Dan Bilawsky By

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Charlie Parker has been deified, his methods have been codified, and his recordings have been analyzed ad infinitum. Six decades have passed since he left this realm, yet he remains the lodestar for a significant portion of the jazz community, from the aspiring to the elite, and his influence hasn't waned one bit. Given all of that, it's astonishing to realize that so few players have taken chances by looking beyond the songs, the music theory, the recordings, and the man. For if they did, they would find the spark of creativity and the desire to extract the new from the old that drove Parker to create something meaningful and lasting. That's just what saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa seems to have done with Bird Calls.

In putting together this project, Mahanthappa managed to marry Parker's language with post-modern vernacular, creating something that speaks to today while referencing the past. Mahanthappa sticks to Parker's "Now's The Time" rhythmic layout but creates new melodies during "Maybe Later," he disassembles "Donna Lee" and puts it back together in his own image during "On The DL," and he touches on the melody of "Parker's Mood" with a more intense and direct rhythmic approach on "Talin Is Thinking." In other places, he builds new constructs atop established harmonic foundations, tweaks tempos, and slices and dices Parker-isms into new shapes, blurring the line between the source material and the new music it yields.

The meat of the album is connected to the aforementioned Parker-derived pieces, but five "Bird Calls" serve as connective tissue between them. These short vignettes—each less than three minutes in length—are just as engrossing as the lengthier works. One might be all about mystique ("Bird Calls #1"), another might pair horn against horn ("Bird Calls #2"), and a third may find the piano speaking calmly and curiously ("Bird Calls #5"). Taken alone, they may seem somewhat out of place, but, when taken as part of the whole, these miniatures mean so much more: They're palate cleansers and directional beacons, ushering in new sounds and streams of thought.

Through it all, Mahanthappa's sui generis quintet proves to be every bit as responsible for the success of this music as he is. Adam O'Farrill's trumpet swims beautifully in the calmer waters and his clarion calls match Mahanthappa's fierce declarations elsewhere; pianist Matt Mitchell tumbles and flows in brilliant fashion; bassist Francois Moutin bounds along in the mix and anchors the band; and drummer Rudy Royston is ready to rumble. There's little this outfit can't do and there's virtually nothing that could make this record any better than it already is.

Track Listing: Bird Calls #1; On the DL; Bird Calls #2; Chilllin’; Bird Calls #3; Talin is Thinking; Both Hands; Bird Calls #4; Gopuram; Maybe Later; Bird Calls # 5; Sure Why Not?; Man, Thanks for Coming.

Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Matt Mitchell: piano; Francois Moutin: acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

Title: Bird Calls | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ACT Music


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