Rudresh Mahanthappa’s GAMAK
Chicagoans who caught the fiery alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa back in the mid-90s, when he was attending grad school at DePaul University, probably remember his intensity and energy, if not exactly his vision. But in the years since he left town for New York his work has been by nothing so much as strong ideas and purpose. Few jazz musicians in recent years have demonstrated such artistic depth and ambition. Like his frequent collaborator pianist Vijay Iyer he’s rigorously explored his Indian roots to create meaningful and exhilarating hybrid’s with Carnatic music; Mahanthappa’s stellar 2008 album Kinsmen featured a dazzling frontline collaboration with Indian classical reedist Kadri Gopalnath and in his duo project with Iyer called Raw Materials each applied different models of exploration to traditional Indian modes while creating new music utterly steeped in jazz.
In fact, another of Mahanthappa’s recent projects was devoted to his hard bop roots: on his 2010 album he partnered with his one-time mentor, the Milwaukee-bred saxophonist Bunky Green, with whom he played at the Made in Chicago series in the summer of 2009. Earlier this year Mahanthappa released the debut album from the dynamic group he brings to this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, Gamak. This hard-hitting quartet—with features drummer Dan Weiss, bassist François Moutin, and electric guitarist David Fiuczynski—seems to draw upon many of the saxophonist’s stylistic concerns: lightning-fast bebop, classical Indian melodic lines, off-kilter funk, and a glimmer of razor-sharp fusion. In particular Fiuczynski distinguishes the group, making like a sitar one moment, a second horn the next. Hold on to your hats.