Jazz careers (like all American careers) can get broken down into two trajectories. There's the vertical orientation—the career of our company-man fathers—in which a musician gets into a band when he's young and stays there until he's old, working with more or less the same collaborators and gradually honing the subtleties of sound. This is what Bill Evans did and Johnny Hodges did and Brad Mehldau has done. Then there's the horizontal career—the modern freelancer—in which a musician plays in many bands at the same time. None of these bands will play together all that much; and none of them will ever rise to the heights of a great vertical band; but they'll never be short of energy and ideas. Almost every jazz musician today follows this horizontal path. Just as lifetime employment at a single, paternal company has become a relic, lifetime or even consistent multi-year employment in one band has all but gone extinct.
Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has recently been a sublime horizontalist. Last year, he put out two albums, Dual Identity and Apex. Both were collaborations with other saxophonists, both featured new bands, both were beautifully realized, neither has launched a band that plays together 100 nights a year. Rudresh's website lists nine "projects" that he leads or co-leads. That's pretty much the definition of a horizontal career.
Tonight at the Cornelia Street Café, Rudresh relaunches vertically, debuting the new Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet. This is a fresh manifestation of the band that put out Rudresh's earlier records Black Water, Mother Tongue, and Codebook; the band that dominated his musical identity before he fully embraced South Indian Carnatic music, put out Kinsmen and Apti, and got profiled in the New Yorker. The new Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet features the guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski, a departure from the Quartet's past reliance on pianists to hold down the harmony. "I’ve been blessed to have had such piano powerhouses as Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn perform with me before," Rudresh told me, "but having a guitarist with David’s unique abilities and perspectives will be a big change in thee overall group sound."
The suite the Quartet debuts tonight and tomorrow, "Gamak," continues Rudresh's modern jazz exploration of South Indian musical concepts (and, in the case of "Gamak," Indonesian musical concepts as well). With "Gamak," Rudresh says, "I’m working with quarter-tones and melodic ornamentation in ways that I have not before, especially with regard to composition." It's not a through-composed hour-long piece, but a template for improvisation, exploration. It should be both classic Rudresh and the newer Rudresh rolled into one.
Note: Today marks the beginning of my own collaboration. The drawing of Rudresh above was done by the Argentine cartoonist and humorist Sebastián Scherman. Seba will be contributing illustrations on a regular basis to Inverted Garden, which may finally force me to blog on a regular basis. Please take a sec to visit Seba's website.
Rudresh Mahanthappa's "Gamak"
The Cornelia Street Cafe
9 and 10:30
Illustration credit: Sebastián Scherman (scherman.blogspot.com)