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Rudresh Mahanthappa in Pittsburgh

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s two-night appearance in Pittsburgh took place as part of the 2008 Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, a 16-day performing and visual arts series. The alto saxophonist premiered Samdhi: Diasporic Connection, a suite inspired in part by his studies of ragas during a trip to India last year. So new was the piece, Mahanthappa admitted during an interview 12 days prior to the performance, that he was still writing it at that time. He began rehearsing later that week with his new band: guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Rich Brown, drummer Damion Reed and mridangam (South Indian barrel drum) player Anand Ananthakrishman. Everyone had charts onstage, which they followed with ease.

Combining elements of traditional Indian harmonies and rhythms with unhinged jazz improvisation, electronics and occasional drum ‘n’ bass grooves, the nearly 90-minute piece was a landmark convergence of styles that didn’t lend itself to easy analysis. That’s due, in large part, to the fact that new music of this caliber hasn’t been attempted before. Granted, Kinsmen, Mahanthappa’s latest album, set the course. But while that album featured him sharing space with Indian saxophonist Kadri Golpalnath, the Pittsburgh performance put all the emphasis on Mahanthappa the bandleader and composer.

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