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: electric bass
The Sanskrit word for twilight is “Samdhi,” which now serves as the aptly-chosen title for saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa’s latest ensemble, a fluid melding of jazz, electronic and Indian music. Like twilight’s delicate balance of day and night, the album harmonizes brilliant illumination and mysterious shadows.
“Samdhi” also refers to a period between two ages, as one dawns and another passes. Without presuming to know the future, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that Samdhi marks a similar transition in Mahanthappa’s creative life. While it draws on elements and experiments from Mahanthappa’s earlier work, it also marks his initial forays into rich new avenues to explore – particularly in the use of electronics. The ensemble began life in 2008 as the result of a Guggenheim fellowship, which allowed Mahanthappa to dedicate an entire year to a single project.
The line-up with which Mahanthappa approached this idea is accordingly versatile and expansive: New Yorker David Gilmore is one of the few guitarists who possesses the technical skills and stylistic scope to master such an endeavor. Damion Reid is one of the best in the league of young American drummers who combine immense power and speed with a lush tonal palette. Toronto bassist Rich Brown – who Mahanthappa considers “one of the best in the world” – no stranger to such multi-cultural hybrids as a member of a Canadian Indo-jazz band.
While much of Mahanthappa’s catalogue could be considered “fusion” in the dictionary definition of the word, Samdhi’s electro-acoustic blend and ventures into funky grooves and psychedelic intensity occasionally evoke the best of the genre that bears that name. “I’m a child of the eighties,” Mahanthappa explains. “The first songs I heard and which inspired me to make music were not by Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, but Grover Washington, Jr., the Brecker Brothers, the Yellowjackets and David Sanborn.”
A respect for these musical roots is evident on Samdhi. Mahanthappa is always wary of falling into the trap of being artificially exotic or creating clichéd ethnic jazz in which “East-West groups play in the same room without really playing together,” as he puts it. “I think Samdhi has exactly the integrity I wanted it to have and perhaps is also more accessible than a lot of my other music.”
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