Monday, January 16, 2012

Week of Indian Jazz Includes Celebrated Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa

Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of several artists who come from the Indian Subcontinent that will be featured at Blues Alley, in Washington DC, that starts today. In a series of performances that are presented by Blues Alley in conjunction with the Embassy of India, Mahanthappa’s appearances on Thursday and Friday, January 19 and 20th with Samdhi will be a highlight of the jazz week and this series. Tonight vocalist Sachal Vasandani appears, while tomorrow guitarist Sanjay Mishra & Friends will be there. Wednesday, January 18, guitarist Rez Abassi is there with his trio. Michael West of the Washington City Paper has highlighted this performance. According to his website, Rez will also be appearing with Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi.

This writer is particularly excited to the appearance of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi. That is also the title of his most recent recording on ACT. He is one of the most praised saxophonists to have come to some prominence in the past several years and with such other performers who have their origins in the Indian Subcontinent such as Vijay Iyer has made a significant impact on contemporary jazz.

Samdhi is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘twilight,’ but he advises that in Hinduism this word has a greater significance as representing the phase between ages, ‘the period between the destruction of one universe and the creation of the next.’ In essence it “represents transition and a reflection of the past while waiting to see what the future will bring.” He further notes some of his inspirations that go beyond Charlie Parker to include Grover Washington Jr, David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers and the Yellow Jackets. He strives to mix passion with virtuosity and gone beyond the jazz tradition to a whole range of music including aspects of South Indian Music as well as fascinated by electronic music and hip hop with the new array of sounds and beats. The new release Samdhi, reflects his musical pursuit and to these ears represents ant intriguing and realized musical fusion of jazz and other elements.

On the recording, his alto saxophone and laptop electronics is joined by guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Rich Brown, drummer Damion Reid and “Anand” Anantha Krishnan on mridangam and kanjira. Mahanthappa’s alto playing is wonderful, with a sinewy, singing tone (reminds me of Jan Gabarek at times) and solos that mix intellect and passion. An example of his integration of electronics and his alto playing is presented on the opening Parakram #1 is a tone poem with his alto riding over his electronics. The exhilarating Killer has fire from him against the South Indian rhythms with Gilmore’s guitar contributing his own fireworks, with the interplay between these two and especially the percussion of Krishnan becomes mesmerizing. More of this interplay can be heard on Breakfastlunchanddinner.

Each of the musicians is featured on this recording. Bassist Brown has a solo Richard’s Game which segues into Playing With Stones, with tempo changes but a constant in the Mahanthappa’s playful, lyrical lead of the performance here. Gilmore;s “Rune” is followed by the afore-mentioned “Breakfastlunchanddinner.” There is a return to electronics on Parakram #2, which is a lengthier track and very intriguing with his use of hip hop grooves, loops and overdubs. Meeting of the Skins is a percussion feature providing solos for both Reid and Krishnan. The remainder of Samdhi is as fulfilling to listen to with its natural fusion of its musical elements for music that is at times entrancing and other times sensuous and high-spirited,

The delights of listening to Samhi (which I purchased) brings a definite anticipation to seeing Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi this week, although the members of Samdhi may vary from the recording. It will an an opportunity to see one of the significant new musical voices of today. For more information on the performances this week, including ordering tickets, visit,

Here is a video of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi in performance from October 2011.

Here is guitarist Rez Abassi in performance.

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