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October 2008

Rudresh Mahanthappa featuring Kadri Gopalnath
Kinsmen
Pi Recordings

Make no mistake, Kinsmen is a stylish and evocative blend of indigenous art forms, an extraordinarily successful East-meets-West experiment, and the most stimulating world/jazz soundclash since Ornette Coleman jammed in Jajouka. Altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa is a driving force in contemporary jazz, and his Indian-American heritage factors strongly into this alliance with Kadri Gopalnath, a renowned South Indian alto saxophone master who pioneered playing the classical music of his region (Carnatic) on his instrument.

In these hands, the distance between two musical worlds doesn’t seem so vast. Both men know their way around their altos and have different styles, but they also enjoy an emotive affinity that allows them to settle on common ground. The raga-type sequences of their compositions open up a wide but exacting tableau for improvisation, and Mahanthappa and Gopalnath engage in some beautiful counterpoint and unison playing, as well as passionate bits of call-and-response.

Their winding melodic lines are often long and complex, and the band features A. Kanyakumari on violin and Rez Abassi on guitar, both of whom provide distinctive solo voices as well as consummate ensemble playing. The rhythm section takes on the demanding task of navigating a pulse between two aesthetics, and drummer Royal Hartigan, bassist Carlo de Rosa and mridangam player Poovalur Sriji keep the disciplined Indian influence authentic while allowing the bracing improvisation to unfold. An unqualified musical achievement, this powerful collaboration between kinsmen Rudresh Mahanthappa and Kadri Gopalnath opens up a new possibility that will surely be followed by others.

Originally published in October 2008
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