Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2013: George Benson

Rudresh Mahanthappa

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Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking musicians of today. Perhaps best-known for his collaborations with Vijay Iyer and more recently with Jack DeJohnnette, Mahanthappa has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship, and various prestigious commissions. On top of this, he was named alto saxophonist of the year in both 2011 and 2012 by Downbeat’s International Critics poll, as well as receiving the same honour for four years running from the Jazz Journalists Association.

Born in Trieste, Italy and raised in Boulder Colorado, Mahanthappa is a second-generation Indian-American, and this experience has been central to his musical path. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he was introduced to the music of Kadri Gopalnath, the first musician to adapt Carnatic music to the alto saxophone, and a musician with whom Mahanthappa would later collaborate.

Part of what makes Mahanthappa so unique is not just his assimilation of Indian classical music, but rather the distinct way he combines this music with American musical forms such as jazz, funk, and blues, as well as Western classical music.

These influences are all on display on Mahanthappa’s most recent album, Gamak. The album, whose title refers to the various types of ornamentation used in Indian classical music, features Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, alongside fretless guitarist (and Jack DeJohnnette bandmate) Dave Fiuczynski, French-born bassist François Moutin, and rhythmic phenom Dan Weiss on drums. The music is challenging yet funky, at times dense and at others wide open.

I have had the pleasure of experiencing Mahanthappa live with both Iyer and DeJohnnette, and both times I was blown away by his energy, spontaneity, and originality. He’ll be leading a band at this year’s TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival on June 17 at the West End Cultural Centre—don’t miss this concert! (Bonus: Mahanthappa is scheduled for a Jazz Lab at 5:30 pm that afternoon at the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts. I’m looking forward to that too!)

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