Indian-born American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has now been at it for almost 30 years. A jazz reformist, he has brought his alto saxophone to the carnatic music of South India, contemporary music of Western tradition, and rock, even metal. After all these peregrinations, he now offers us a disc of covers on which he pays tribute to the creators who inspired him, his musical heroes.
On the program are rereadings of songs composed or popularized by the saxophonists who guided him in his learning of the instrument: Charlie Parker, Benny Carter, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Lee Konitz, and Ornette Coleman. Mahanthappa also has the audacity to tackle Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup”, which he recreates without piano. He also ventures outside the confines of jazz by covering two songs he loved in his youth: Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed”, rearranged by pianist Danilo Perez, and the monumental “Ring of Fire” by the man in black himself, Johnny Cash.
To fulfill his mission of recognition, the super-saxophonist called upon two long-time acolytes, double bassist François Moutin and percussionist Rudy Royston. This reduced formation with partners he has known for a long time gives him all the flexibility he needs to let himself go and re-imagine the pieces he’s chosen to measure himself against. What’s most apparent in these very successful reappropriations is pure pleasure, the joy the trio takes in adding new colours to old standards. The rereadings of Gershwin’s “I Can’t Get Started” and Coleman’s “Sadness” are more contemplative, but the other pieces in this anthology breathe happiness in full bloom.