Sunday, July 12, 2020

Mahanthappa Reflects on his Jazz Influences

“Heroes” Rudy Royston, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and François Moutin (courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications)

This coming Friday Whirlwind Recordings will release the latest album from jazz alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Entitled Hero Trio, Mahanthappa’s note for the accompanying booklet explains his motives in the very first sentence:
After having released 15 albums of original music as a leader/co-leader, it is an immense pleasure to record music that is not my own.
In other words the album is a nod to those “heroes” behind Mahanthappa’s own prodigious capacity for invention. He achieves his goal by leading a trio, whose other members are François Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. As usual, Amazon.com has created a Web page to process pre-orders of this new album.

As one scans the track list, it becomes quickly clear that one “hero” stands out above all the others: Charlie Parker. Other tracks are devoted to Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, “standards” composers Vernon Duke and Gene de Paul, and, more recently, Stevie Wonder and the partnership of June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore. There is also a single track that combines Parker’s “Barbados” with John Coltrane’s “26-2” (which, in turn, is a contrafact of Parker’s “Confirmation”). Almost all of the tracks are subjected to Mahanthappa’s imaginative approaches to arrangement. Adding rhythmic eccentricity to the Cash-Kilgore “Ring of Fire” is a particularly apposite case in point. The only tracks that do not acknowledge arrangement are Coleman’s “Sadness” and Jarrett’s “The Windup.” The Wonder track, “Overjoyed,” uses an arrangement by Danilo Perez.

As trios go, this is one in which Mahanthappa is almost always in the spotlight. Nevertheless, Royston brings a refreshing eccentricity to the beat behind Mahanthappa’s solos. Moutin also gets several opportunities for solo bass work, most of which involve plucking. However, there is some highly imaginative bowed work before Mahanthappa introduces the theme of Coleman’s “Sadness.” As a result, each track emerges with its own way of drawing in the attentive listener, and there is much to be mined from attentive listening to this trio’s takes on jazz history.