Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

What’s Next at the Miller Theatre? High Voltage Indian Jazz

In Sanskrit, “agrima” means “what’s next.” That’s the title of whirlwind alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s 2017 album with his Indo-Pak Coalition: guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Dan Weiss. The trio are bringing their sometimes raptly hypnotic, sometimes wildly intense show to the Miller Theatre at 8 PM on Feb 9. You can get in for $30, which by ever-more-extortionistic Manhattan jazz club standards isn’t bad. And you won’t get hustled to spend more on drinks, either.

All three of the band members have been involved with very diverse projects over the years: this may be the best project Weiss has been in, and Abbasi has never played more resonantly or tunefully than he does here. The album opens with a lingering, suspenseful, rubato overture simply titled Alap (referring to the improvisation at the beginning of a raga). From there Mahanthappa hits a rapidfire bhangra riff and they’re off, into the ominous, modal melody of Snap, Weiss’ cymbal crashes leaving no doubt how epic this will get. A scampering, bristling conversation between guitar and sax; a Mahanthappa solo packed with his signature, unwavering wind-tunnel microtonal attack; a gritty, more enigmatic one from Abbasi; and a long, somewhat wry crescendo based around a popular carnatic riff ends it in a tightly wound frenzy. if this doesn’t raise your heart rate, you aren’t alive.

Showcase has an oldtime gospel/blues sway anchored by Abbasi’s prowling rhythm, the bandleader fluttering brightly overhead, Weiss’ clave taking it in a more latin direction. The album’s title track expands from a hypnotic, motorik intro to a rather joyous theme, Abbasi’s burning, sustained chords holding it down. They take it halfspeed, then back, with another adrenalizing crescendo.

Can-Did, a steady, disquieting stroll, has uneasy, sustained Abbasi jangle against Mahanthappa’s resonant lines, until the band brighten and shift in a funkier direction. The trio begin Rasikapriya as a gorgeous mashup of rustic oldtime blues and ominously modal raga melody, then dip to an opaque, atmospheric interlude. This time it’s Abbasi’s jagged solo fueling the upward climb.

Revati, the album’s most epic number, has a surrealistically techy solo guitar intro, moodily circling sax and numerous tempo shifts, Weiss alternating between tabla and a full drum kit. The long trajectory before a series of false endings is more blithe and also more predictable than anything else here. The final cut is Take-Turns, with insistent, minimalist sax contrasting with scampering guitar; then the two switch roles. Whether you consider this raga music with jazz instrumentation, or jazz based on Indian themes, it’s the best of both worlds.

Now…other than the vinyl record, which a lot of people will want, where can you actually hear this? Not at Mahanthappa’s Bandcamp page, or youtube, or even Spotify. That was a problem when the album came out and that’s why it wasn’t reviewed here. For now, try Soundcloud and good luck.

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February 2, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rudresh Mahanthappa Brings His Sizzling Indian-Flavored Take on Charlie Parker to the Jazz Standard

Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the world’s most individualistic and thrilling musicians, a wide-ranging scholar of jazz as well as Indian music. His latest album, Bird Calls – streaming at Spotify – is a characteristically unconventional effort, heavily influenced by Charlie Parker, although not a tribute album per se. His performance with the quintet on the album at this year’s Winter Jazzfest was a spine-tingling display of chops, ideas, and high-voltage banter between the musicians. He’s doing it again, playing the album release show at the Jazz Standard on March 24 with sets at 7:30 and 10 PM with a slightly different crew: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Bobby Avey, bassist François Moutin and drummer Jordan Perlson. Cover is $25.

Musicians have been highfiving each other in song for eons. The shout-outs to Bird on this album are all over the place, some as simple as Mahanthappa playing his own tune over Parker’s changes, to switching up the rhythm of a Bird melody or solo, along with more artfully concealed passages. Whatever the case, it’s classic Mahanthappa, ancient-sounding, often majestic Indian motifs within a somewhat harder bop framework than usual.

The album juxtaposes brief interludes with larger-scale numbers. Bird Calls #1, which opens it, is a brief, murkily suspenseful modal platform for the first of many animated sax-trumpet conversation (at Winter Jazzfest, they really took their time and had a ball with this). On the DL (a reference to Bird’s Donna Lee) opens with the same interplay at triplespeed or more – how firebrand young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill (son of latin jazz maven Arturo) matches Mahanthappa’s silken, precise intonation is stunning. At Winter Jazzfest, Indian percussion master Vish, of dancefloor groove instrumentalists SuKhush commented that if this was a sine wave, it would be completely flat [thanks for the company and the erudite insights, guys!].

Sax and trumpet join in a tightly rhythmic duet with echoes of Indian bhangra brass music, followed by Chillin’, referencing Bird’s Relaxin’ at the Camarillo in bubbly, joyous trumpet/sax eschanges, graceful melismas from O’Farrill and long, elusive flights from Mahanthappa. They follow a playful, masterful solo sax passage replete with overtones and subtle rhythmic shifts with Talin Is Thinking, inspired equally by Parker’s Mood and Mahanthappa’s young son. A pensive march that rises to majestic, fiery heights, pianist Matt Mitchell’s resonant, hard-hitting but surgically precise pedalpoint enhances the shadowy Indian-tinged mystery underneath.  Moutin’s dancing, kinetic lines blend with and then leap from drummer Rudy Royston’s steady, subtle rat-a-tat drive: who knew he could channel an intricate tabla rhythm yet bring it into the 21st century, thousands of miles away?

Both Hands (based on Dexterity) is another showcase for clarity and rapidfire precision from sax and trumpet, hard bop over a briskly rumbling, hypnotic backdrop, Mitchell nimbly choosing his spots. A rustling Moutin solo leads into the wryly tiltled Gopuram (referencing Steeplechase – in India, a gopur is a temple tower), a tersely simmering, modally-charged number that reminds of Marc Cary (has he played with Mahanthappa? What a collaboration that would be!).

Maybe Later (drawing on Now’s the Time) contrasts lively, upbeat postbop horn riffage with a sternly rhythmic underpinning, with an acidically rippling Mitchell solo over Royston’s tumbling aggression and jabs. An expansive Mitchell solo sets the stage for Sure Why Not? (a shout-out to Confirmation and Barbados), the album’s least Indian-flavored and most lightheartedly pulsing track. The album winds up much the way it started, but with a staccato pulse, referencing Bird’s Anthropology with all hands on deck, blistering spirals from Mitchell and a hard-charging sax/trumpet debate. In case you haven’t figured out, there’s no one on earth who sounds remotely like Rudresh Mahanthappa, and he’s a force of nature live. This show promises to be amazing, get there early.

March 21, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weighing in on the New Rudresh Album

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s new album Gamak, out from ACT, hits the street today. The jazz media genuflects to the alto saxophonist’s virtuosic, boundary-stretching technique, range and imaginative compositions: is this all it’s cracked up to be? Pretty much. It’s a major album, not just because it’s pushing the envelope further and further into microtonal territory, but because it’s exciting, hard-edged music. This is what happens when the core of Jack DeJohnettte’s band is left to their own inventive devices. Much has been made of how Rudresh (nice to be instantly recognizable in jazz by your first name alone, isn’t it) has drawn on his Indian background, but this isn’t “Indian jazz” – he has a singular vernacular As you would expect, the microtones keening and bending from Dave Fiuczynski’s guitar strings are more strikingly otherworldly than the single-note lines of the sax, but both musicians are often hanging in scales that don’t exist in western music – and so much the better. Bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss hit hard and keep it terse behind them.

The opening track slams along on a rapidfire bhangra riff from the sax, then they swing it down to a memorably wall-bending, creepily microtonal Fiuczynski solo and eventually crunch their way out. A long, memorably disorienting interlude from Fiuczynski leads to a spiraling exchange with the sax on the raga-inspired second cut, Weiss driving it purposefully as the bandleader evokes the eerie timbres of a Turkish ney flute. After a disarmingly lyrical, syncopated shuffle tune, they bring back the eerie tonalities with We’ll Make More, a more radical, pummeling yet funky revisitation of the raga melody that opened Rudresh’s pioneering 2003 album Black Water.

A track from that album, Are There Clouds in India is as balmy as the original but more surreal and uneasy, both guitar and sax building to bustling tension and then moving back toward a semblance of calm comfort, exchanging airy volleys in a mysterious new language. Lots of Interest makes all this look easy – it’s actually anything but – indulging Fiuczynski’s Screaming Headless Torso side before reverting to staggered funk.

They follow a practically minimalist bass solo with Copernicus and its machinegun sax over nervous changes, then Wrathful Wisdom with its breath-stopping swoops, wry Fiuczynski humor and Middle Eastern allusions. That part of the world is referenced more directly on Ballad for Troubled Times, Rudresh driving it with a liquid legato, Moutin artfully choosing his spots to illuminate. The album ends with a miniature, Majesty of the Blues which is more of a math-jazz piece. What may be this album’s strongest suit is that it softpedals the strange scales: melody is so front and center that it’s sometimes beside the point that so much of this is blue notes. Which, ultimately, is what defined the roots of jazz and will define its future branches.

January 29, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment