SAXOPHONIST RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA'S KINSMEN
RECEIVES UNIVERSAL CRITICAL ACCLAIM
ALBUM IS TOP JAZZ CD ACCORDING TO NPR, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Village Voice, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, Denver Post, Boston Phoenix, JazzTimes, Slate.com, PopMatters, All Music Guide + MANY MORE
Kinsmen is the highly acclaimed, groundbreaking project by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (rude-RESH mah-HAHN-tha-pa) that melds jazz with South Indian music into a single organic whole. Mahanthappa -- recently named a Top 10 alto saxophonist in the 2008 DownBeat Critic's Poll, the #2 jazz album of 2008 in The Village Voice's Third Annual Jazz Critic's Poll, Artist of the Year by the venerated All About Jazz-New York and one of Take Five's Best Jazz CDs of 2008 on NPR Music -- is clearly one of the most innovative young musicians in jazz today.
Last week, veteran journalist Howard Mandel profiled Mahanthappa on NPR's All Things Considered in an extensive story about Kinsmen and the burgeoning South Asian jazz scene in New York. Listen to the full story here.
Kinsmen has also recently been proclaimed a top album of 2008 by an astonishing list of critics at NPR, BBC 3, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, The Denver Post, The Boston Phoenix, The Philadelphia City Paper, JazzTimes Magazine, Slate.com, PopMatters.com, All Music Guide, About.com and many other blogs and websites. See full list below for links and rankings.
Kinsmen is Rudresh Mahanthappa's collaboration with Kadri Gopalnath, a living legend of Indian music known as "The Emperor of the Saxophone," a true innovator in bringing the saxophone to Indian classical music. The music on Kinsmen, featuring their co-led Dakshina Ensemble, is exemplar of successful multicultural, transnational collaboration. Utilizing his extensive knowledge of both jazz and the traditional melodic and rhythmic concepts of Indian music, Mahanthappa has masterfully provided a framework that has brought out the best in all the musicians, resulting in spectacular interaction and virtuosic displays from Gopalnath, A. Kanyakumari on violin and Rez Abassi on guitar. The band also features Poovalur Sriji on Mridangam (South Indian barrel drum), Carlo de Rosa on acoustic bass and royal hartigan (sic) on drums.
For Mahanthappa, who grew up in Boulder, Colorado to Indian immigrant parents, the pull of Indian classical music didn't come until his college years, when he toured India with the Berklee College of Music All-Stars and was lucky to attend an all-night concert outside of Bangalore where he heard both Carnatic (South Indian) and Hindustani (North Indian) music performed by greats such as Parween Sultana and Chitti Babu. As a young jazz musician, Rudresh saw the parallels between Indian music and jazz with both being improvised art forms with inherently strong rhythmic propulsion. Though he grappled for a way to embrace his Indian-American identity through his music, Rudresh could not find a clear entry point as he had no awareness of any saxophone tradition in classical Indian music. Then one evening, moments after the conclusion of one of his recitals at Berklee, Rudresh's older brother gave him a CD (as congratulatory gift and as a joke) called Saxophone Indian Style by Kadri Golpalnath. A complete eye-opener, the CD provided a doorway into the realm of musical possibilities for Rudresh through which he could finally engage the music of his ancestry.
A few years later, Mahanthappa managed to meet Kadri backstage at a Carnatic concert in Boston. Golpalnath was not only ecstatic to meet an Indian-American jazz saxophonist, but one of South Indian roots with a name that he deemed to have a powerful Hindu meaning - Rudresh, in Sanskrit, refers to a fierce incarnation of Shiva who saved the human race and Mahanthappa is derived from the same roots as "mahatma," or "great soul." Though not trained in jazz, Gopalnath too saw the similarities between the art forms and was enthusiastic about the possibility of joining forces at some point. This became a reality when, with the help of a Rockefeller Grant and a commission from New York City's Asia Society, Rudresh traveled to Chennai (Madras) in 2005 to work with Kadri at what would eventually become the music on Kinsmen.
Mahanthappa set out to create a body of music that draws on the strengths of both the American and Indian musicians - a music that embodies the rhythmic diversity and harmonic complexity of jazz and the melodic and metrical rigor of Indian classical music. Utilizing Indian ragas, songs, and rhythmic cycles as a starting point, he composed new melodies and harmonies that connect them with a jazz sensibility. About the collaboration, Rudresh says, "The piece is really about finding this middle ground where we're both comfortable playing in this setting that is half-Western and half-South Indian, and maybe pushing to a point where it actually becomes neither." Because there is no real tradition of composing new works in Indian classical music - the songs are typically ancient and derived from the Vedas - Mahanthappa initially encountered some hesitation from Golpalnath. Rudresh continues, "Eventually though, I would just ask Kadri to think of something contrapuntally to play with my parts, and he'd sit there and think for a minute and then come up with these beautiful melodies, these lines weaving in and out of each other. It was really amazing."
After several months of working together, they collectively assembled the Dakshina Ensemble and premiered the piece in New York City in May 2005. In Kinsmen, Mahanthappa has effectively created something that both stretches the musicians while at the same time, enables the musicians on both sides to bring their best to the table. The music burns with passionate interplay: Mahanthappa's biting attack intertwined with Golpalnath's staccato outbursts; Kanyakumari's slippery portamento and Abbasi's Mahavishnu-like single note runs. Rather than "Indo-Jazz fusion," the music harmoniously synthesizes the cultural and musical divide, creating a sound that truly transcends labels and genre.
Top 10 Jazz - BBC 3
Top 10 Jazz - Wall Street Journal / Larry Blumenfeld
Top 10 Jazz/Pop - NY Times / Ben Ratliff (#4)
Top 50 Jazz Recordings - Village Voice 3rd Annual Critic's Poll (#2)
Top 10 Jazz & World - Boston Globe / Siddhartha Mitter (#3)
Top 10 Jazz & World - Seattle Times / Andrew Gilbert (#4)
Top 10 Jazz - Denver Post / Bret Saunders (#5)
Top 10 Jazz - Boston Phoenix / Jon Garelick (#2)
Top 10 Jazz - Philadelphia City Paper / Shaun Brady (#3)
Top 50 Albums - JazzTimes (#15)
Top 5 Jazz - NPR's 'Take Five' Weekly Sampler (#4)
Top 10 Albums & Singles - Rolling Stone's Will Hermes
Top 10 Jazz - Slate.com / Fred Kaplan (#4)
Top 5 Albums - WashingtonPost.com's Marc Fisher (#2)
Top 15 Jazz - PopMatters.com / Will Layman (#10)
Top 25 Jazz - All Music Guide (alphabetical)
Top 10 Jazz - About.com / Jacob Teichroew (#7)
Howard Mandel's JazzBeyondJazz Top 10 (#2)
All About Jazz-New York Musician of the Year for 2008 in January 2009 issue (one of five)
List complied by Fully Altered Media