By Hrayr Attarian
Rudresh Mahanthappa Hero Trio
Rudresh Mahanthappa – Alto saxophone
François Moutin – Bass
Rudy Royston – Drums
On his sixteenth release as a leader, the taut and lean Hero Trio, intrepid alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa pays homage to his various musical influences. These include such jazz giants as saxophonists Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman and, less predictably so, singer-songwriters June Carter Cash and Stevie Wonder. Mahanthappa, who arranged the majority of the tunes, leaves on them his indelible mark.
As an example, Mahanthappa’s rendering of Wonder’s “Overjoyed” is poignant and cinematic. Arranged by pianist Danilo Perez, it features bassist François Moutin’s eloquent and agile extemporization and drummer Rudy Royston’s percolating beats and propulsive cadence. Mahanthappa embellishes the melody of this R&B classic with exuberance and vigor.
On a melange of Parker’s “Barbados” and saxophonist John Coltrane’s “26-2,” Mahanthappa builds on the first part’s angularity with provocative ideas and deconstructs the second with expressive brawn and vibrant tones. Moutin’s lyrical and lithe solo bisects the piece, dovetailing into the ensemble’s free wheeling collective improvisation. The three musicians exchange refreshingly innovative phrases with electrifying virtuosity.
Moutin’s melancholic and mesmerizing arco drone opens Coleman’s “Sadness.” Mahanthappa enters with a wistful and serpentine alto as Royston creates a haunting atmosphere with his sparse thuds and splashing cymbals. The simmering group performance is innovative, erudite, and poetic.
Also short—yet equally memorable—is Carter Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Mahanthappa pushes the boundaries of the song with bold spontaneity. Despite his dissonant experimentations he keeps the original’s mellifluous core in sight. Moutin echoes Mahanthappa with his sinewy reverberations while Royston drives the track with an elegant and passionate groove.
Mahanthappa imbues the simultaneously spirited and intimate Hero Trio with his singular sound. Together with his synergistic bandmates, Mahanthappa has recorded a superb tribute to groundbreaking artists of various genres. This is a work that showcases Mahanthappa’s unique style while maintaining a reverence for, and highlighting, the ingenuity of the source material.