Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172)
This has been out a couple of months but it has been so absorbing me that is has been difficult to step back and write about it.
Mahanthappa and Lehman, both alto saxophonists of a certain 21st-century New York downtown sensibility, really are taking jazz into fresh territory, and they work extraordinarily well together. Mahanthappa brings a raga sense of busyness achieving serenity, while Lehman has a drier sound and style that often reminds me of Henry Threadgill, both in tone and harmonically.
For this disc they have Liberty Ellman on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums. I think it’s all a live gig though there is not applause between every piece.
The best bits are when the two saxophones are going at it like competing wasps around a flower, while bass and drums hold a half-time groove and Ellman adds dark, slightly menacing chords to offset the saxophones. As the horns get more intense, swapping the improvisations back and forth while the other holds a complementary pattern, so Reid ups the temperature to a real tattoo, though with very little cymbal action to get in the way of the trebly saxophones.
Try track 9, RudreshM, as a prime example. The title track is a really mind-blowing exchange between the two leaders, full of multiphonics and their own weird harmonic and melodic language. It’s so strange and yet so strangely compelling. Whenever I hear this music I imagine how exciting Charlie Parker would have found it.