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Rudresh Mahanthappa: Mother Tongue

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Ethnicity served as loose inspiration on tenor saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s previous recording, Black Water (Red Giant). With Mother Tongue, the sociological interests take a more literal role. Armed with a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, Mahanthappa asked questions to native speakers of some of the various languages spoken in India. He transcribed their responses into melodies and used this material as the basis for most of the music.

Mahanthappa, along with pianist and frequent collaborator Vijay Iyer, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee, stretch these oddly contoured melodies over a dry, distantly funky 4/4 beat-a sound borrowed directly from Steve Coleman’s music. But Mahanthappa’s introverted and somewhat flat-footed engagement with the material blunts much of the music’s impact, and over the course of the recording, the concept begins to pall.

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