Feb 11 2015
It’s the creative, psychological and emotional attachments that drive this album more than it is notes written on paper. Bird Calls is not a Charlie Parker tribute album. This is not an album of cover songs. This is Rudresh Mahanthappa displaying his attachment to the music of Charlie Parker, and illustrating how Bird’s music is both a refuge and a shot in the arm for the alto saxophonist.
Additionally, it’s proof how creative ideas inspire more of the same in those they affect, and how that chain reaction carries from person to person and generation to generation. Bird Calls is the spirit of Charlie Parker’s music, but this is a Rudresh Mahanthappa album.
Using bits of Parker melodies and solos as the seeds of inspiration, Mahanthappa cultivates those music fragments into his own expressions and in his own voice, and the bloom is dramatically changed from its origins. This music doesn’t echo the bop of the past. It hardly even resonates with the jazz of the modern day. The music of Mahanthappa always seems one step ahead of the present tense, as if he’s perpetually navigating away from the danger of his next note becoming a derivative of past successes. There is something very Now about Mahanthappa’s music and there is something very Next about it, too.
The album opens with the surging “On the DL,” which shifts between a driven ferocity and a loose detachment. It’s a powerful opening statement and immediate proof that this music belongs to the modern era.
However, it’s the song-in-its-heart “Chillin’,” with its potent melody and a cadence that screams all kinds of excitement and fun where the album’s personality shines through, occupying a space where it can exist in the absence of the album’s premise as easily as it can exist in its embrace.
“Maybe Later” is the most open acknowledgment of the source material. A refracted image of a straight-ahead sound, though it’s the way the quintet captures Parker’s captivating motion that gets to the heart of the matter. The ballad “Sure Why Not?” occupies the same space, but explores it with greater patience.
“Gopuram” is one of the rare instances of Mahanthappa’s incorporation of Indian music on this recording. And though this influence does cause the song to stand out in terms of its overall sound, intriguingly, the range and shape of its motion snaps right into place with tunes such as “Both Hands” with its speedy delivery and whip-smart melody and the fierce melodicism and stormy turmoil of “Talin is Thinking.”
A handful of interludes provide additional room to explore the themes presented and utilizes them as heady intros to the songs that follow.
An outstanding album.
This powerful recording signals the start of the 2015 year in Jazz and, undoubtedly, it will be a part of the conversation at year’s end as Best of 2015 lists are constructed.
Your album personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto sax), Adam O’Farrill (trumpet), Matt Mitchell (piano), François Moutin (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums).
Released on ACT Music.
Jazz from NYC.