Mar 12, 2015
With the release of Bird Calls, Rudresh Mahanthappa moves forward by looking back. During the fertile five year period that has found him releasing six albums as a leader or co-leader (and at least half a dozen more as a sideman); the alto-saxophonist had been working primarily with an electric sound, climaxing with the powerful Gamak CD in 2013. Bird Calls finds Mahanthappa returning to an acoustic sound, primarily with a traditional quartet (Matt Mitchell,François Moutin, Rudy Royston) augmented by trumpet prodigy Adam O’Farrill, paying tribute to the legendary Charlie Parker with a reimagining of Bird’s melodies, harmonies and spirit.
Rather than take his turn on tunes like “Confirmation”, “Donna Lee” or “Parker’s Mood”, Rudresh has removed or realigned the famous melodies, changed the harmonic progressions or rethought the rhythmic progressions of the classics. The result allows us to see Parker as a true musical visionary, a man whose music was written and recorded more than three-quarters of a century ago, but can be seen, as Mahanthappa notes, as “21st-century classical music, with a really modern way of thinking about rhythm and melody and harmony.”
Simultaneously with the release of Bird Calls, Mahanthappa is touring not only with his jazz group, but as part of collaboration with Ragamala Dance, presenting Song of the Jasmine. A new dance work conceived by Aparna Ramaswamy, the production takes the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam into the 21st century, with Mahanthappa and other members of a quintet, including his long-time friend and sometimes collaborator Rez Abbasi, onstage playing his score.
Podcast 469 is my conversation with Rudresh, covering topics as varied as the importance of Charlie Parker to today’s music, to his choice for five albums every jazz musician should hear. Music selections from Bird Calls include “Talin is Thinking”, “Bird Calls #5” and "Chillin'", plus additional music from Gamak (“Are There Clouds in India?”) and Rez Abbasi’s 2011 CD Suno Suno (“Monuments”).