WBGO Radar

Rudresh Mahanthappa: "Bird Calls"

rudresh mahanthappa Bird Calls

Rudresh Mahanthappa first heard Charlie Parker when he was twelve years old.

"My life was changed forever," the alto saxophonist recalls. "His sheer virtuosity and innovative vocabulary were obviously astounding, but what moved and continues to inspire me is the joy, humor and beauty that he portrays and instills."

"It was the spark for me to make a life in music," he says. "I have never looked back since." 

Proof can be heard on Rudresh's new CD, Bird Calls. There are no Charlie Parker tunes on the album.

Joined by trumpeter Adam O'Farrill, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston, Rudresh has crafted tunes based on Parker tunes and solos to move forward.

"Imitating Charlie Parker is of no consequence to forwarding the form, but developing new perspectives on tradition is the substance of contemporary expression," he explains. "I firmly believe Bird would have wanted his legacy to resonate in this fashion."

Mahanthappa has the skills to pull it off. He also has the perspective, and the humor - at the 2014 Winter Jazz Fest, he asked listeners to purchase his current CD so he could buy Pampers for his newborn.

With his command of the scales and rhythmic complexity of South Indian music translated through the vocabulary of modern jazz, Mahanthappa opens the set with "Bird Calls # 1," an open declaration to experience what's to come.

Based on Parker's "Donna Lee," "On The DL" has all five burners turned up high.

"Bird Calls # 2" has a call and response leading to "Chillin'," based on Parker's "Relaxin' At Camariilo."

With Mahanthappa's shapeshifting rhythmic approach, he and trumpeter O'Farrill weave their lines in a new day Bird & Diz fashion.

"Sure Why Not?", is based on "Confirmation," and "Barbados" has Rudresh moving with what the New York Times describes well as "a roving intellect and bladelike articulation," setting the original melody against the harmony of Parker's original.

Bird Calls is like 21st century classical music, with a really modern way of thinking about rhythm, melody and harmony. I think Charlie Parker would like it.

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls comes out February 10th on ACT Records. He celebrates the release of the album at New York's Jazz Standard March 24.


   -Gary Walker, WBGO music director



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