Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)
Mauger brings together the trio of drummer Gerry Hemingway, bassist Mark Dresser and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (for his first Clean Feed session) for eight original compositions. Mahanthappa is noted for his highly “structuralist” work, some of it through-composed, with figures like pianist Vijay Iyer and altoist Steve Lehman. Naturally, bringing him into a situation with Hemingway and Dresser loosens things up considerably; though of a different stripe, they are also rigorous improvising composers. The Beautiful Enabler runs the gamut from rousing free bop to pensive textural explorations, and like many sessions with this instrumentation, it allows a particularly naked view of the range of the horn player’s approach.

The opening “Acuppa” is tart, rousing heave-ho swing, opening with gentle purrs and tonal exploration before the three settle into a jounce, Mahanthappa picking apart rows of notes in between the tune’s down-home rondo. The way the altoist approaches the material, stretching out on particulates and harping upon fragments with measured intensity until they’re exhausted is reminiscent of Braxton soloing on “Ramblin’.” The album’s lone collective improvisation, “Bearings,” allows even more introspection on Mahanthappa—as much as he obsesses on phrases or series of notes, he doesn’t overuse this tactic. Rather, he moves with near objectivity through different motives, exploring their nuances yet not exhausting them. It’s a different sort of detail and precision than one would find in peers like Lehman, and contrasts heavily with the earthy mass of Dresser’s ponticello bowing and Hemingway’s own dissections of time and phrase.

On “Intone,” Mahanthappa’s bent notes and circular breathing allow him to channel a South Asian double-reed instrument and a hint of Lee Konitz at the same time, as though the latter were charming his way through tonal molasses at an easy lope. All this is not to say that Mauger are entirely a heady brew; quite the opposite, it’s a gas to listen to Mahanthappa’s instantaneous mazes and simultaneously be carried along by the knotty waves of Dresser and Hemingway. The Beautiful Enabler is an extremely rewarding listen, and alongside a number of alto-bass-drums trios released this year by Clean Feed, Mauger shows how varied a single approach to instrumentation can be.

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