Monday, December 8, 2008

Rudresh Mahanthappa Finds Kindred Spirits

I know what you're thinking. I know, I know. It's been a while. My dinner's been getting cold, and you were worried sick; I'm only hoping that you haven't remarried while I was lost at sea. Yes, I have been listening to tons and tons of jazz music while I was gone, and there are tons and tons of records I could have chosen to review for my first one back from hiatus ("Petit Oiseau" by William Parker, "Flood" by Avishai Cohen and too many others to mention are coming in the near future), but I picked my personal favorite of the past month: Rudresh Mahanthappa's "Kinsmen."

"Kinsmen," the new album from Rudresh Mahanthappa, fuses Indian Classical (Carnatic) music and jazz, and shows that Mahanthappa’s idiosyncratic technique can translate to genres other than straight jazz. "Kinsmen" is Mahanthappa’s first album since 2006’s "Codebook," and marks a huge departure for his sound. 

"Codebook" featured a number of fast, rhythmically and harmonically advanced jazz tunes as played by Mahanthappa’s quartet. Kinsmen, on the other hand, features a jazz quartet made up of himself (alto sax), Rez Abassi (guitar), Carlo Derosa (bass) and Royal Hartigan (drums), augmented by a Carnatic music trio of Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone), A. Kanyakumari (violin), and Poovalur Sriji (mridangam).


The music sounds on record like it does on paper: a clean fusion of jazz and Indian classical music. Parts of "Kinsmen" feature only the quartet or trio, but for the most part the instrumentation is mixed; a section of “Ganesha” features Rudresh’s saxophone along with Sriji’s Mridangam and Hartigan’s drums, and parts of the title track have Mahanthappa and Gopalnath trading licks across musical disciplines.

Mahanthappa’s sidemen are stellar, and Abassi’s odd background fits this date perfectly; in addition to playing straight ahead jazz, Abassi has been one of a small handful of young Indians to adapt the electric guitar for Carnatic music. On some tracks, such as “Snake!” and “Longing,” Abassi’s guitar sounds like an electrified sitar, while on others his tone is almost identical to the clean, modern sound of young jazzers like Lage Lund or Mike Moreno. Kudos also goes to Derosa and Hartigan for being able to keep up with Sriji’s mridangam, which is no easy task.

While other projects in the past that have attempted to fuse Indian classical music with jazz, Kinsmen is probably the first that represents a total fusion as opposed to the many one-sided attempts. Highly recommended.

In the next few days I'll have the first of my three-part "2008 In Jazz" series, so check back!