Rudresh Mahanthappa, “Chillin’,” from Bird Calls (2015): Something Else! sneak peek

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The amazingly diverse, cross-cultural and incisive saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa roves across the musical landscape in an endless quest to bring jazz into new areas. But if there’s a common thread in his ambitious body of work, it can be traced to another altoist who was pushing against jazz’s boundaries some seventy years ago. “If I ever feel uninspired or down I can always go back to Charlie Parker,” discloses Mahanthappa. “That always makes me feel invigorated and joyful about playing jazz and playing the saxophone. I always say that what I play still sounds like Bird, just a little bit displaced. It’s coming from the same language and the same foundations. I feel like I’ve always been playing Bird.”

Bird Calls, available February 10, 2015 via ACT Records, is Mahanthappa’s next ambitious project which also takes him full circle to his primary influence. It’s a Parker tribute, yes, but it’s also not a collection of Parker covers. Sort of, but not quite.

Mahanthappa instead leverages Parker’s harmonics, be it from his compositions or his gravity-defying solos, as the foundation for Mahanthappa’s own music. “Chillin’,” for instance, is descended from “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.” On the surface it appears to be a 21st century modern jazz song, but listen to this side-by-side with Parker’s “Camarillo” and you’re reminded of the omnipresence of his ideas that are still strong today, particularly the advanced harmonics and the head-solos-head structure.

Mahanthappa and his quintet leap off from those ideas to offer their own. The Matt Mitchell (piano)/François Moutin (bass)/Rudy Royston (drums) rhythm section devise a complex rhythmic pattern that seems a galaxy apart from late 40s swing, but there remains an element of swing to it. The saxophonist found his own young Miles Davis in 20-year-old Adam O’Farrill, a prodigal trumpet player who is the son of Cuban jazz luminary Arturo O’Farrill and grandson of Chico O’Farrill. The dynamic way the two connect with and push each other exemplifies more than anything else here that the way forward in jazz today is rooted in the way Charlie Parker found about three or four generations ago.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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