Just a month into the year and we’re already hearing some terrific new music. I don’t easily get excited by musical sound these days. Maybe because I’ve become somewhat of a jaded listener. But the new album ‘Gamak’ by the Italy-born US-based jazz saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has got this old dog’s ears all perked up. Mahanthappa has become one of the most acclaimed alto saxophonists of recent times. His sense of melody in a lethal combination with free experimentalism reminds me a bit of John Coltrane. A series of excellent albums finds its current peak in ‘Gamak’. The quartet of musicians on this one replaces the piano with the guitar. Mahanthappa’s band-mate in the Jack DeJohnette Group, guitarist David Fiuczynski forms a brilliant, fiery musical partnership with the saxophonist and Dan Weiss on the drums and bassist Francois Moutin lay the perfect rhythm foundation for the other two to explode.
The album kicks off with the propulsive groove of my favourite track ‘Waiting Is Forbidden’. The opening staccato notes are an insistent call for attention. Ignore this if you can. I break into a dance every time I hear it (I really had a lot of trouble writing this post as a result). And since that usually is when I’m alone, the world at large is deprived of what must surely be a hilarious spectacle.
The quartet is not afraid to create a heady mix of bop, funk, laid-back blues and blistering prog-rock and still comes out shining. Two of the best examples of that are the powerful ‘Wrathful Wisdom’ and the fantastic ‘Lots Of Interest’.
Mixed in with the fierce play are slow drawn out, bluesy masterpieces like ‘Are There Clouds In India?’.
The beautiful Caribbean-influenced ‘Stay I’ evokes images of a lovely evening on the beach.
And then there’s that showcase for Mahanthappa’s sense of exquisite melody, ‘Ballad For Troubled Times’.
The most intriguing song that I found here is ‘Abhogi’, a very (very, very) loose interpretation of the Indian raga of the same name. Purists of the jazz and the Indian classical form are bound to be equally frustrated and that would send the likes of me to devilish glee. There’s so much going on – Fiuczynski even throws in a bit of country twang – that the composition seems often in the imminent danger of breaking apart. But somehow it does its mad runs and comes back together. Elastic, that’s what I’d call it.
On to that final wicked sting at the end on the bluesy, near-metal, wailing ‘Majesty Of The Blues’. Packed basement club, sweaty energetic crowds getting completely smashed on this one. Yeah!