Rudresh Mahanthappa has, slowly but surely, been carving a niche for himself. It started in 1996 with the release of his album Yatra. From there he went on to record with Pierre Lognay, Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd. In 2002 came the first defining moment as leader with the release of Black Water on Red Giant Records. He now stamps that with another album and shows that he has a significant role to play in jazz, not only as a composer but as an articulator of the form.
In the liner notes Mahanthappa says that he was asked if he spoke Indian or Hindu. While India has 22 official languages, neither of the two above are languages. (To put it in perspective, Hindu is to Hinduism what Christian is to Christianity.) In the spirit of revelation he created "compositions that are directly based on melodic transcriptions of Indian-Americans responding to such questions in their native Indian tongues."
If there is one particular attribute that could be singled out about Mahanthappa as a player, it is his control. He can sustain a flurry of notes that bite and chew, without toppling into excess. He sees the light and heads toward it and, when in the open, unravels his imagination, without getting burned or blinded. That is a sign of his maturity, one that will leave an indelible mark. Mahanthappa characterizes this right on as "The Preserver," the music keening and edgy, serrated lines that tumble forth and straighten out, and set the terrain for Iyer who extends the harmonic parameter and creates a spell of his own, a trait evident on the other tunes as well.
Indian motifs are paramount to Mahanthappa's cause and they come in and coax the composition to another level, one that captures and captivates with the depth of its evolution. One can feel the pulse in any of the other tracks even on "English," washed with an oscillating bed that moves into bop with Kavee pushing a taut rhythm and Iyer bathing it in bright colors. The shape is in constant shift, yet the body does not lose its sinew. "Kannada" brings in a translucent beauty, like the South Indian language it is, flowing and pleasing to the ear. And to go for one more, Moutin sets the beat for the heady landscape of "Konkani" (the language of Goa and Mangalore), where Mahanthappa uses a reedier tone and shugs the rhythm into a quicker tempo, his call and response segment with Iyer the highlight.
There is a nice surprise tucked in at the end. After that one waits for the next one.
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