Rudresh Mahanthappa composed the nine pieces on Codebook by taking inspiration from ideas and concepts found in cryptography; rhythms and melodies were encoded or convoluted in order to approach the music from newer, more challenging angles. Daunting as this may seem, the alto saxophonist wound up with results that justify the means without being overshadowed by them. Codebook might not win listeners immediately, but it keeps pulling you back to decipher its contours.
The rapid, complex alto melody of “The Decider” that launches the album presents a good jump-off point, with pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss keeping the music grounded, but lying in wait for a moment to push it in a different direction. This happens in “Enhanced Performance,” where an uneven time signature keeps increasing in tempo, stoking the saxophonist’s fire only to come to an abrupt end. “D (Dee-Dee)” begins with a more conventional theme, only to move in and out of tempo, landing in bass and piano solos marked by strange accents and torrents on clusters, respectively.
With a tone that could be described as pungent, Mahanthappa’s performance comes across much like a compelling narrator whose presence immediately puts you under his spell. But Iyer, Moutin and Weiss also perform at such a level that their accompaniment proves as intriguing as their solo sections.