Described as “a talent to keep a steady eye on” by New Yorker magazine, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has been capturing the attention of press and artists alike since his arrival in New York City five years ago. While steadily forging a path with his own groups, and landing auspicious sideman work with the likes of David Murray, Steve Coleman, Jack DeJohnette, and Greg Osby, Rudresh has been honing his composing skills and developing his own vocabulary through the fusing of various influences, finding a bridge between the lyricism of John Coltrane’s music and the rhythmic counterpoint of the M-BASE culture. Following a commission award from the American Composers Forum in 2002, Rudresh decided to draw more specifically on his Indian ancestry to compose the suite that makes up the music on this recording, Black Water, his second release as a leader.
On Black Water, Mahanthappa’s forward-thinking vision is flawlessly captured by a stellar quartet that features some of New York’s finest young talents. Foremost among the saxophonist’s collaborators is the remarkable pianist Vijay Iyer, with whom Mr. Mahanthappa shares a unique artistic bond. Ben Ratliff described this relationship in the New York Times as: “a strong communicative link . . . that creates a charged, nearly tensile energy that the rest of the group can orient itself around.” This was evident on Iyer’s 2001 release, Panoptic Modes (Red Giant), and is more finely developed here on the Black Water sessions. The quartet is completed with Europe’s top-call bassist, François Moutin known for his work with Martial Solal and Michel Portal, and fiery young drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee who has traveled the world with rhythmically demanding artists like Omar Sosa and Henry Threadgill.
Some information about the term Black Water:
Black Water or kala pani (kala=black, pani=water) refers to the loss of one’s identity upon leaving one’s homeland and crossing the black water of the ocean. With regard to India, emigrating has often meant losing one’s caste privileges and having to reinvent oneself. During British colonization, Black Water specifically referred to the infamous prison in the Andaman Islands (about 800 miles off the eastern coast of India, closer to Thailand!) where Indian rebels were held including such important figures as Nehru. Historical accounts describe this prison as being one of the worst in India’s history. More recently, sociologists use the term in reference to the Indo-Caribbean experience not unlike the Middle Passage; this has been further expanded to include the Indian Diaspora in the West.
Black Water is dedicated to all of those who have had the courage to leave behind their own culture and identity upon arriving in this strange new land.
More biographical information:
Some of Rudresh’s other notable sideman jobs include work with Samir Chatterjee, Trichy Sankaran, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Von Freeman, George Garzone, Tim Hagans, Fareed Haque, Vijay Iyer, Howard Levy, David Liebman, Joe Lovano, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Clark Terry.
Rudresh has twice received the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Grant to develop new work in conjunction with the Jazz Institute of Chicago (Manodharma Trio, 2001) and The Jazz Gallery of New York (Raw Materials, 2002).
Mahanthappa has his Bachelors of Music Degree in jazz performance from Berklee College of Music and his Masters of Music degree in jazz composition from Chicago’s DePaul University. He now teaches at The New School University.
“This alto player has a tone like iron and charges from 0 to 80 in about four seconds. He has been making his name playing tough, rhythmically complicated, challenging music, more and more, by playing with his own group.” (highly recommended concert)
– The New York Times
“chops [that] are practically unparalleled” .. “making music unlike anything else in the city today ”
“fiery alto blowing . . . comes out smoking at every opportunity.”
-The Los Angeles Times
“a gifted player . . . tremendous exuberance”
– Gary Giddins- Village Voice
“alto monsta . . . expect tumult and introspection, chaos and resurrection, terror and evolution.”
– The Village Voice
“Compelling and fiercely individualistic… The vibrancy of his tone, the unflagging drive of his rhythms, the speed of his bebop-influenced passages, and the mercurial nature of his improvisational ideas establish Mahanthappa as a player with a great deal to say.”
– The Chicago Tribune
“His solos ring with an almost religious fervor”
– Chicago Reader
“A prodigy . . . a saxophone phenom”
– New City
“Mahanthappa is one of the freshest, strongest young voices on the alto saxophone that I’ve heard in a long time. With his experience of the rich tradition of Indian music and jazz, his music is full of rhythmic surprises and swing. He’s got something to say and the future is his! Check him out!!”
” He is a true improviser with blistering technique.”
“It’s very refreshing and encouraging to hear music of this intensity coming from a young saxophonist. Rudresh exhibits a rare harmonic and melodic fluency which projects his ideas beyond mere craft, to a well developed form of art.”