Alto saxophonist and composer, Rudresh Mahanthappa can pinpoint his musical transformation to when — with the ears of an elementary schoolboy — he first heard a recording of alto bop great, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Quite some decades later, in an offering of gratitude and admiration, Rudresh composed and produced Bird Calls (ACT), a musical love letter to the daddy of bebop.
Bird Calls marks Mahanthappa’s fourteenth recording as a leader and each original composition is as stellar as its personnel: pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Francois Moutin, drummer Rudy Royston and one of the most thrilling trumpet players on the scene, the under-twenty-one-year-old Adam O’Farrill.
Some would think writing new jazz music inspired by the work of Parker would be a daunting project for Mahanthappa or any other composer. But years of successfully writing and playing South Asian pieces — the intricate rhythms, the flying tempos, the fast and frequent chord changes and the unconventional harmony — make for a natural symbiosis of the two genres.
The opening track, “Bird Calls 1”, is riveting as it opens in freestyle form with Moutin’s intoxicating bow. Mitchell and Royston take flight and before long, Mahanthappa and O’Farrill engage in a (bird) call and response repartee. There is no doubt that Adam O’Farrill is Rudresh’s trusty wing man here; the Diz to his Bird. His deep and intelligent talent perfectly fleshes out this illustrious quintet.
This is a tribute of brilliantly original and meaningful music. Parkerphiles will especially enjoy identifying Mahanthappa’s interpretations and decoding his track titles (“On The DL”, “Chillin’”, “Both Hands”, etc.) back to the original names of the Parker tunes. These compositions are so rich, these arrangements so wonderfully executed, that I found myself listening repeatedly, each time hearing something I had not heard the time before.
In the world of ornithology, it is the father hummingbird that teaches his young to sing. Mr. Parker has taught Mr. Mahanthappa very well.
Article by Lisa Ellex