Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rudresh Mahanthappa – Codebook (Pi, 2006)

Alto saxophonist and composer Mahanthappa picks some really interesting concepts for his albums. His last record, Mother Tongue, contained improvisations based on the different languages and dialects spoken in India. This one takes the different mathematical methods of cryptography, code making and breaking as jumping off points for improvisations. And what good improvisations they are, mining a scalding mostly uptempo free-bop feel, that owes some to Ornette Coleman's pioneering trail but is definitely the group's own. Joining Mahanthappa on this disc are frequent collaborator Vijay Iyer on piano, along with Francois Moutin on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. "The Decider" comes barreling out of the gate with a complex theme and a blistering alto solo from the leader. "Frontburner" is another tune taken at a quick tempo. It's a testament to the quality of the musicians that they can improvise on such intricate themes at such speed without faltering. Things mellow out a little bit on a few numbers, but it is the barn burners that really stick in my mind. This is very exciting and interesting music. Don't let the complexity throw you off, the music may be very tough to play but much like John Coltrane's music like "Giant Steps" or "Mr. P.C." that difficulty does not't effect the enjoyment of one of the best jazz albums of the year.

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