After being introduced to one another by M-Base saxophonist Steve Coleman a decade ago, pianist Vijay Iyer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthapa have shared a long and fruitful career together. Both are founding members in each other's ensembles: Mahanthappa is the principle foil in Iyer's long running quartet, and vice versa in Mahanthappa's own group. Recently they have spent a considerable amount of time playing as a duo dubbed Raw Materials. This self-titled album is their debut recording.
Iyer and Mahanthappa share the spotlight as equals, trading solos and cadenzas while providing each other rhythmic support and harmonic counterpoint, without ever falling into clichéd patterns. With similar genealogical backgrounds, their shared history runs deeper than most duos, enriching their synergistic rapport. Sharing progressive conceptual points of view, Iyer and Mahanthappa straddle opposing ideological worlds, blending mainstream virtuosity with avant-garde expressivity. Strident but not histrionic, they play with exuberance on assertive passages and restraint during introspective moments.
Their shared sensibility engenders the album with a distinctive, formalist identity. Even more telling, twelve of thirteen tracks are culled from a suite, "Sangha: Collaborative Fables," further cementing the album's stylistic focus.
A slight forlornness haunts the suite, albeit with a glimmer of hope deep at its core. Alternately rousing or contemplative, the pair vacillates from pugnacious remonstration to pensive rumination. Mahanthappa's circuitous spiral runs knit with Iyer's percussive arpeggios as the duo weaves an intricate tapestry of ardent pyrotechnics. When not soaring over Iyer's pneumatic comping, Mahanthappa drifts from controlled multiphonics to searing, lyrical intensity with ease. Demonstrating the entire spectrum of his talent, Iyer modulates his attack from resounding sustain and hyper linear keyboard runs to muted chords and pianissimo rumblings during the set's ballads.
Even without the benefit of a rhythm section, Iyer and Mahanthappa's intuitive rapport makes rewarding listening. Stripped to the barest of essentials, Raw Materials proves that sometimes less is more.
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