Many of us now cringe at the music we loved when we were teenagers. Rudresh Mahanthappa isn't one of them. Now that he's an internationally acclaimed saxophonist who tours the world's best jazz clubs and festivals, he freely admits that he had a thing for smooth jazz growing up in Colorado in the '80s. "Besides Charlie Parker," he writes in the liner notes to his latest album, "the first sounds that inspired me to play the saxophone as a child were soul/R&B and jazz 'fusion' artists such as Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers and The Yellowjackets."
That latest album, 2011's Samdhi, borrows a bit from that past and its electric funk excesses. It also integrates ideas from South Indian scales and modes, hip-hop and computer music programming. Atop all that, Mahanthappa is an astonishing soloist, a swarm of locusts rampaging through an irregular beat. It's an impressive listen which becomes a bug-eyed, mouth-agape experience when you see it live.
When Mahanthappa recently toured the Samdhi songbook in Washington, D.C., we had him stop by the NPR Music offices to give us a taste — and he brought along some old friends. Drummer Rudy Royston and Mahanthappa played in a Denver-based band together some 20-odd years ago, and have since reconnected in New York; electric bassist Rich Brown has played in just about every conceivable setting from his home base of Toronto, including the Canadian Indo-jazz group Autorickshaw; guitarist Rez Abbasi is a long-time confrere in the dual worlds of jazz and South Asian music.
When Rudresh, Rez, Rich and Rudy tore into the frantic "Killer," everyone immediately perked up. When we in the audience started looking at each other, we were all wearing the same giddy, dropped-jaw smile.
Producer: Patrick Jarenwattananon; Editor: Doriane Raiman; Videographers: Michael Katzif and Doriane Raiman; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Emily Bogle/NPR