Gamak is Rudresh Mahanthappa’s 13th album since 1994, and it’s state-of-the-art contemporary jazz.
Get past any Acid Jazz flashbacks triggered by “Fuze” Fiuczynski’s choppy wah-funk guitar on the opening track, “Waiting is Forbidden”, and focus on the chunky bass/drums tumble of the rhythm and the loquacious M-Base licks of the leader’s alto sax.
Gamak reunites Mahanthappa with bassist François Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss, both members of the leader’s long-running quartet, which was last recorded on the 2006 album Codebook. Mahanthappa and Fiuczynski met in 2010 when both were recruited to the current Jack DeJohnette Group: a heavyweight association, for sure.
More telling, if you don’t know Mahanthappa’s work, is his longstanding and prolific association with Vijay Iyer. The complexities of the present album meld in the same fusion of fire and urbanity as the best of Iyer’s work, while also evoking the earlier, cyclic urban jazz/funk of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements: Mahanthappa’s mercurial talent distils the twinned alto curlicues of Coleman and Greg Osby with spirited eloquence.
On bass, François Moutin is exceptional throughout, and his partnership with drummer Dan Weissand is fully effective in flaying stolidity from the M-Base rhythm aesthetic, leaving only sinuous clarity and whiplash responsiveness.
Mahanthappa composed and produced all of the music here, telling one interviewer: “I’m working with quarter-tones and melodic ornamentation in ways that I have not before, especially with regard to composition.” And certainly, Gamak is rich with dazzling invention, exploring many modes and moods.
The helter-skelter 1’35” of “Copernicus – 19” makes for a nice intro to the more weighty and discursive “Wrathful Wisdom”, on which an elastic rhythm and bright flights of individual fancy lighten an otherwise obscurely portentous mood. “Ballad for Troubled Times” and “Majesty of the Blues” end the album: the former is a weightless collective meditation, the latter a blunt marriage of sour sax soliloquy to heavy rhythmic riffing.
“Abhogi” is one of Gamak‘s most idiosyncratic tracks. Based on an Indian raga. It marries Asia-infected alto sax licks to a parallel C&W-flavoured guitar line and a slippery, soulful mambo rhythm.
Though the album most overtly fuses South Indian musical concepts and kinetic modern jazz, the quartet apparently also explore Indonesian musical ideas. While these Asiatic influences evidently enrich the quartet’s melodic sensibility their influence shouldn’t be overstated; its creativity extrapolates mostly from post-bop and improv essentials.