Sunday, June 21, 2020

Rudresh Mahanthappa - Hero Trio (Whirlwind Records, 2020)

Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has built an excellent career, leading the jazz program at Princeton University and releasing a series of fine LP's as a leader. This album is in a lean trio configuration with him in the company of François Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The trio plays an interesting mix of original music, jazz standards and pop tunes that allows them to make the most of the material and display some prime improvising along the way. The last time this group convened they made the impressive Charlie Parker based album Bird Calls and this one begins by nodding in that direction as well with "Red Cross" a post-modern reading of the Parker tune that has Mahanthappa blazing a complex and dynamic path that uses the original as a springboard to improvisation with a fierce rhythm section foundation. They move in a different direction with a version of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed," taking the slinky melody of the rhythm and blues tune and turning it into a soul jazz come on that works well, with lithe melodic bass and flowing drums working with the leader's graceful and flowing playing. "Barbados/26-2" yokes together compositions by two of the most influential saxophonists of the post-war era, Parker and John Coltrane. The medley works well with the trio taking the groundbreaking music of the twentieth century and giving it a decidedly twenty-first century boost. They return to the realm of pop music with a short version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," staying close to melody of the original Sun single and bringing forth some of that pathos and edgy energy into their performance. The band brings things back full circle with the concluding Parker composition "Dewey Square" sprouting from its bebop roots and playing a complex trio improvisation that uses elastic rhythm and chopping, swooping saxophone. The album works well as a whole, with it's roots in the fertile past, and the branches snaking in a number of more modern directions. They glance to the past while staying firmly in the moment, playing with an gregarious nature that flows in a confident and palpable manner, creating an accessible and enjoyable album. Hero Trio -

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