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


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

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.