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STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak


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This week, let's look at some videos of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who will be making his St. Louis debut with his group Gamak starting Wednesday, March 19 through Saturday, March 22 at Jazz at the Bistro.

The son of Indian emigrants to the United States, the 42-year-old Mahanthappa is known particularly for combining jazz with elements of South Indian classical music. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado; graduated from Berklee College of Music; and earned an MFA in jazz composition from DePaul University in Chicago.

Moving to NYC in 1998, Mahanthappa soon teamed up and released an album with pianist Vijay Iyer, and they've continued to collaborate on many projects. To date, Mahanthappa has released 13 albums as a leader or co-leader, featuring various ensembles including an eponymous quartet and Raw Materials, both including Iyer; as well as the Indo-Pak Coalition, MSG, the Dakshina Ensemble, Dual Identity, and Samdhi.

The 2013 debut album by Gamak featured bassist François Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss, both of whom who have worked with Mahanthappa in other bands, as well as guitarist David “Fuse" Fiuczynski, whose penchant for microtonality complements Mahanthappa's own. Fiuczynski's metal-edged, take-no-prisoners approach become something of a cult favorite among guitarists via his own group, the Screaming Headless Torsos, and he's since gone on to play as a sideman with drummers Jack De Johnette and Stewart Copeland, trumpeter Cuong Vu, pianist Hiromi Uehara, and others.

However, according to the promotional material being disseminated by Jazz St. Louis, Fiuczynski won't be playing with Gamak at the Bistro. Instead, the gigs will feature Moutin, Weiss and guitarist Rez Abbasi, who's worked with Mahanthappa in several bands, including the aforementioned Indo-Pak Coalition.

Though that may be something of a disappointment to anyone who was looking forward to hearing “Fuse" push the decibel levels at the Bistro, Abbasi is a capable player who has a demonstrated rapport with Mahanthappa. Still, it's got to be a different group without Fiuczynski, and thus we now must offer news of the change as a caveat, since he's featured in pretty much all the video of Gamak available online.

Up top, there's a promotional clip for Gamak's first album, in which Mahanthappa discusses the recording and you can hear some brief musical excerpts. Down below, you can see several live performance videos, starting with an excerpt from a show recorded during the 2013 NYC Winter Jazzfest at Le Poisson Rouge with all four musicians who recorded the album.

Below that, there are two videos from a concert in May 2013 in Croatia, featuring Mahanthappa, Fiuczynski, Rich Brown on bass, and St. Louis-born Gene Lake, son of saxophonist Oliver Lake, on drums. The first includes the compositions “Stay I," “Slendro" and “Wrathful Wisdom," while the second is an extended version of “Abhogi."

In the fifth spot, there's a clip from August 2013 at the Novosadski Jazz Festival in Serbia with Mahanthappa, Fiuczynski, Brown on bass and Jordan Perlson on drums. The sixth and final video is a short interview with Mahanthappa from 2011, in which he discusses some of his teachers and musical influences.

For more about Rudresh Mahanthappa and Gamak, you can listen to this episode of NPR's “Piano Jazz" from May 2013, or check out this interview the saxophonist did last year with pianist George Colligan for Colligan's blog JazzTruth.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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