Rudresh Mahanthappa | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Rudresh Mahanthappa 


Starting with Yusef Lateef and John Coltrane in the 50s and 60s, a fair number of American jazz musicians have investigated the music of the Indian subcontinent, lured by its spiritualism and its heavy use of improvisation. Indian-American alto saxist Rudresh Mahanthappa has followed the same trade route, but in the other direction: he grew up listening to his parents' recordings of Indian music and then discovered jazz. There's nothing overtly Indian in his improvising--no stuttering rhythmic motifs or idiosyncratic scales--but his solos ring with an almost religious fervor reminiscent of raga. He's applied the headstrong phrasing of Steve Coleman and Greg Osby to the flexible pitch of Ornette Coleman and Jackie McLean, constructing a searing, explosively pantonal style: when he plays full tilt (his default setting), his tonality, articulation, and tempo all approach the plasticity of an improvised melody. Still in his 20s, he doesn't always successfully focus the considerable power of his playing--but even diluted that power is hard to ignore. Mahanthappa moved to Chicago from Boston in the mid-90s, then headed for New York two summers ago. This return visit began last weekend, and on Wednesday he plays with the Montzka brothers, keyboardist Karl (on Hammond B-3) and drummer Eric: I've heard this group once before, and its psychedelic organ swirls, surrounding Manhanthappa's Coltrane-esque sax, practically sawed off the top of my head. Next Friday he nods to the high-octane quintets he led when he lived here, joined by Ryan Shultz on bass trumpet, John Moulder on guitar, Larry Kohut on bass, and Tom Hipskind on drums. Wednesday, 7 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. Next Friday, August 6, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

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