Not Exactly Two of a Kind

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen (Pi Recordings)
Apti (Innova)

By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has recently released two recordings in which he successfully strives to synthesize his musical jazz roots and his cultural Indian heritage. He grew up in Boulder Colorado, the son of Indian immigrants, but did not develop his affinity for classical Indian music until college.

Of the two releases here, only the leader and guitarist Rez Abassi appear on both. Kinsmenspotlights Indian classical musician Kadri Gopalnath, also on alto sax, plus violin, bass, percussion and drums. Many of the compositions flow into one another, with several solo segments ("alaps") leading into the ensemble performances. The result is an album which transports the raga into an East/West blend of virtuosity.

On Apti, Mahanthappa and Abassi (who also plays sitar-guitar here) are joined by tabla player Dan Weiss. In this stripped-down format, both sax and guitar are given more solo space, with the melodic percussiveness of the tabla frequently functioning as both "bass" and drums. To my ears, this CD has more of an overt jazz flavor than Kinsmen.

The fusion of jazz and Indian concepts is not new, of course; John McLaughlin's various incarnations of Shakti come immediately to mind, as does Charles Lloyd's 2005 release, Sangam. Mahanthappa's skills at both composition and performance catapult him into this company, and augur well for his future.

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