Music

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Apti

A leading jazz saxophonist revives his multicultural trio and makes clear that some hybrid music contains no seams at all.


Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition

Apti

Contributors: Rez Abassi, Dan Weiss
Label: Innova
US Release Date: 2008-11-25
UK Release Date: 2008-11-25
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

It is becoming exhausting to keep up with the flowering career of Rudresh Mahanthappa, an American alto saxophonist. As a proponent of a new kind of jazz innovation, Mahanthappa has partnered with Vijay Iyer to lead several groups playing intricate and brilliant music that goes well beyond traditional post-bop jazz -- but does so within a new, careful framework. As a musician of Indian heritage, he has worked with the Carnatic saxophone legend Kadri Gopalanth in the Dakshina Ensemble, combining US jazz and Indian classical music. He has toured with a Danish-American jazz quintet, he plays in a regular duo and several collective groups, and he has been a Guggenheim fellow. I'm panting just from typing out all of Mahanthappa's credits.

The lastest from Mahanthappa is a dynamic trio called the "Indo-Pak Coalition". Featuring Rez Abassi (from the Dakshiina Ensemble) on guitar/sitar and Dan Weiss on tablas, the group merges modern jazz with Indian music in a different way than Dakshina. As a trio, this group is less about texture and more about the individual players and the interaction of their individual lines. As a result, each choice made by the players from moment to moment subtly alters the balance being struck by the music.

On "Vandanaa Trayee", for example, Abassi plays an acoustic guitar in an open style somewhat reminiscent of Pat Metheny. This choice -- in concert with the beautiful, open melody composed by Mahanthappa -- gives this tune a sound that would be at home on any number of recent Americana albums by Metheny or Bill Frisell. Weiss's hand drumming is not lost here, but it comes off more as a bubbling brook than as idiomatically "Indian" playing. But even here, individual note or rhythm choices by Abassi or Mahanthappa in their solos can suddenly remind the listener that there is another culture informing this music.

"Palika Market" takes a different approach. Weiss takes the lead from the start, pronouncing a complex rhythm that is matched by electric guitar playing a circular line, allowing the tablas to launch into a logical and wondrous improvisation. The alto enters with a new melody that joins the guitar line in short spots, complicating the weave of the melodies. Here, the western instruments are more subservient to the rhythm from overseas, even as the arrangement allows each to surface occasionally as the featured sound. Once the real solos begin, it's a spirited competition, as the tablas still compete on equal ground with Mahanthappa or Abassi as they try to wrest control of the proceedings from the percussion.

"IIT" and "Apti" are equally exciting performances. Mahanthappa's compositions wed the precision and intricacy of Indian music with the harmonic form and structure of jazz. The written themes pop and dance like they were melodies from old Blue Note albums -- with stops and starts and plenty of excitement -- but often using the signature phrasing of Indian music in the process. When Mahanthappa solos on "Apti", he sounds like Jackie McLean as as often as he does like Gopalnath. Both he and Abassi are likely to reharmonize on the fly, playing Coltrane-like chord stacks, but they have also mastered the stuttering phrasing that adds syncopation to Indian music. With Weiss underpinning both elements, these tunes are always in the pocket.

The ballads here bring a different kind of enjoyment. "Baladhi" is drenched in a blues sensibility, with the alto saxophone carving out thick slabs of feeling, but Abassi's electric guitar also establishes a complex chordal movement. On his solo, the guitarist uses a distorted tone and phrases in a way that brings to mind John McLaughlin, whose (mainly acoustic) experiments with Indian music helped to define his electric Mahavishnu Orchestra. You hardly expect the ballad feature to hint at old-school "fusion".

The most outrageous burner on Apti is the last track, "You Talk Too Much", where Mahanthappa sounds like he is running changes on a bebop tune, fingers flying over the keys with the joy of Charlie Parker. Abassi comps in staccato joy, then starts leap-frogging the chords himself. The point, I suppose, is that the Indo-Pak coalition is ready and able to pull from every area of jazz, finding it a simple matter to draw from whatever bag gives the music a good ride.

And it's that kind of eclecticism that marks Rudresh Mahanthappa's music. While his heritage has drawn him to explore the rich resources of Indian music, the recorded evidence is that you can't hem him in. If his early playing with Vijay Iyer first suggested a structured free-bop approach, then recent recordings point -- happily -- in many directions at once.

And that, of course, is what makes jazz still such a vital art form. With musicians technically capable of playing just about anything, it's a happy outcome that they make such intelligent and focused music.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.