Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172)
The live recording by a quintet co-led by alto saxophonists Mahanthappa and Lehman seems at least somewhat conceptually indebted to Coleman, although I’m sure there are other points of departure and lots of original thinking too.
To be completely honest, I’m not familiar enough with Mahanthappa and Lehman to be sure of who’s playing what. Their sounds are close — both tart and full to my ears — but I believe Mahanthappa’s sound to be more ripe, and Lehman’s sound to be more taut. Also, based on their composing and melodic language, their esthetics are similar. Mahanthappa and Lehman are definitely united in making tense, challenging, hard-edged music that has no time for music as usual or half-heartedness.
The disc’s music is very dense, with a predilection for what I think of as abstract, complex funk, marked by stuttering rhythms, tightly knit melodies with almost incantatory refrains, and far from obvious forms (Montreal alto saxophonist Remi Bolduc, no slouch when it comes to hearing what’s going on in music, recently wrote as his Facebook status: ” Dual Identity with Lehman and Mahanthappa… Post-Modern Pharaohs… Pretty hard form to figure out….”)
Songs such as the disc’s opener The General, the more concise Foster Brothers, the epic Extensions Of Extensions Of (kicked off by some of Damion Reid’s hard-hitting drumming) and Circus focus on gyrating, boldly assertive hornwork over a raging, super-syncopated backdrop. As I hear it, guitarist, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Reid do an excellent job of making this very complex and concrete music groove, while Liberty Ellman is gluing the music together with planes of harmony and perfectly placed chords.
With SMS, much rumbling and some steely playing by Ellman set up the fast, invigorating groove. The mystery deepens when the tune’s rumbling theme returns. Resonance Ballad is short and rumbling, a chromatic update on the kinds of modal incantations that John Coltrane created. Katchu, a composition by guitarist Liberty Ellman, is an intriguing ballad and a relative point of repose on the disc. Although the song is pretty, it still accommodates the hard-edged playing by Mahanthappa and Lehman, right down to their closing, dual-horn cadenza that segues into the driving tune Circus.