Consistently heralded by critics as one of the most original composers in his field, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa‘s prolific contributions to contemporary jazz have earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship, commissions to create new work from the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund, Chamber Music America and the American Composers Forum, and a win in the 2011 Downbeat international Critics Poll. His rare ability to synthesize South Indian music concepts with a seemingly boundless range of unexpected influences frequently characterizes him as one of the most important artists in the music today — a distinction the Jazz Journalists Association recently echoed by naming him Alto Saxophonist of the Year three consecutive times from 2009-2011.
But accolades aside, it’s what the New Yorker has called Rudresh’s “visceral tone and grab-you-by-the-collar attack” that’s driven new, international audiences to each of the seven projects he currently leads or co-leads. His critically acclaimed 2010 release, Apex (Pi), with alto saxophone legend Bunky Green, featuring Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette, was widely lauded as one of the year’s best recordings, as NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, the Boston Globe, JazzTimes and other publications hailed the rhythmic dynamism and exuberant ensemble interaction sparked by the group both on stage and on the record. The material Rudresh recorded in 2008 with Carnatic sax guru Kadri Gopalnath for their Kinsmen, (Pi) project displayed a wholly different concept — executed with equally breath-taking chops. And since the 2009 release of Apti, the tabla and guitar-studded Indo-Pak Coalition has provided a more playful take on Mahanthappa’s symbiosis between the music of his ancestors and the jazz he grew up listening to in Colorado.
Though the formats vary widely, Rudresh’s purpose shines through them all. In both his composition and his playing, he seeks to explore new musical territory and, in Rudresh’s words, “to address what it is to be Indian-American by digesting Indian music on my own terms.” By meticulously searching for a new swath of musical possibilities, Rudresh casts a wide net, incorporating inspiration from the gamut of his experience — from his days as an undergrad at Berklee to his studies in DePaul University’s Jazz Composition Masters program to his professional work with artists in North America, Europe, India, and beyond.