Rudresh Mahanthappa: Samdhi

Bill Beuttler reviews the saxophonist's latest

Samdhi, the latest release from alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, was one of the freshest, most exciting albums of 2011. It is named for the Sanskrit word for twilight and, as twilight blurs the boundary between day and night, Samdhi blurs the boundaries separating jazz, the music of Mahanthappa’s ancestral India, electronics, jazz-rock fusion and funk. The result is uniquely charged and beautiful.

Mahanthappa is joined by David Gilmore on electric guitar, Rich Brown on electric bass, Damion Reid on drums and Anantha Krishnan on South Indian percussion; these players, solo or in duet, provide introductory tracks that precede the ensemble cuts. Brown’s bass anticipates “Playing With Stones” with an improvisation titled “Richard’s Game,” his fat, bouncy tone calling to mind Jaco Pastorius. Gilmore sets up “Breakfastlunchanddiner” with “Rune,” whose shimmering chords and bent notes give it a slow, meditative feel despite some quick runs, and whose Indian accents may reference John McLaughlin more than Mahanthappa. “Meeting of the Skins” is the joint introduction Reid and Krishnan provide for the shape-shifting “Ahhh.”

Mahanthappa introduces two tunes himself. “Parakram #1” opens the album, the leader’s alto soaring plaintively over a computerized drone, a call to assembly that segues into the most riveting track on the disc, the infectiously frenzied “Killer.” Mahanthappa’s balladic “For My Lady” sets up “For All the Ladies,” the more idiosyncratic intro giving way to a balladic set-closer on which Gilmore also has his say.