What has materialized is a sound that hybridizes progressive jazz and South Indian classical music in a fluid and forward-looking form that reflects Mahanthappa’s own experience growing up a second-generation Indian-American. Just as his personal experience is never wholly lived on one side of the hyphenate or the other, his music speaks in a voice dedicated to forging a new path forward.
The manifestations of that trajectory include the latest version of his quartet setting, currently named Gamak, and now featuring guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, whose own microtonal vocabulary has opened new possibilities for Mahanthappa’s compositional imagination; and Samdhi, a multi-cultural ensemble that advances Mahanthappa’s blend of jazz and Indian music with modernist electronic music. Samdhi’s self-titled debut, released in 2010 by ACT Music + Vision, was hailed by JazzTimes as “a landmark convergence of styles that didn’t lend itself to easy analysis… new music of this caliber hasn’t been attempted before.”
Gamak, which includes bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss, will issue its first release in January 2013 as the band begins an extended period of live performances. Mahanthappa continues to partner with Pakistani-American guitarist Rez Abbasi and innovative percussionist Dan Weiss in the Indo-Pak Coalition. Other recent projects run the gamut from the cross-generational alto summit Apex featuring Bunky Green; trios MSG and Mauger; the quintet Dual Identity co-led with fellow altoist Steve Lehman; and Raw Materials, his long-running duo project with pianist Vijay Iyer. Despite the vast variety of influences on display throughout these disparate projects, one constant is the voice that the New York Times has hailed as possessing “a roving intellect and a bladelike articulation.”
Giants in both jazz and South Indian music have recognized his success. Most recently, Mahanthappa was asked to join the working group of legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette, while a collaboration with the renowned Carnatic saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath resulted in Mahanthappa’s critically-acclaimed 2008 CD Kinsmen (Pi). He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund, Chamber Music America and the American Composers Forum. He has been named alto saxophonist of the year in Downbeat’s 2011 & 2012 International Critics Polls and for four years running by the Jazz Journalists’ Association (2009-2012).
These impressive accolades, as well as critical praise from such influential outlets as NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice and the New Yorker, spotlight Mahanthappa’s expanding role as a pioneer in the contemporary jazz world. His early years growing up in Colorado, his studies at Berklee College of Music and DePaul University, and his staggering wealth of experiences playing alongside elders and contemporary masters from a number of musical disciplines, are all refracted into his stunning and still-evolving body of work.
Mahanthappa is a Yamaha artist and uses Vandoren reeds exclusively.