Mahanthappa took his search further when he discovered the Carnatic playing of fellow alto saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, one of the few native Indian musicians who play the instrument. After studying with the master, he brought him West for a tour that included the recording of the CD Kinsmen. Mahanthappa has absorbed the Indian pitch blends, quarter tones, and rhythmic elements into his playing, but in his hands they lose their original references and become part of a consistent personal style. Indeed, he plays in the same general manner whether in duet with Iver, as part of ElSaffar's Iraqi-flavored band, or--as at Hill Auditorium last year--with Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. Ever searching for new experiences, he teamed up recently with an alto saxophonist from a very different generation, seventy-five-year-old Bunky Green. Green, who began as a bebopper, has not remained frozen in his music but has absorbed selected elements of more recent harmonic and textural developments. Both saxophonists share a commitment to hard, driving, complex yet extremely precise playing, even if they differ in personal sound and rhythmic approach. The group they formed has toured and recorded an acclaimed CD, Apex.
Iyer, whose fascinating recent trio, quartet, and solo recordings testify to his original, busy, harmonically dense but clear approach to improvisation, comes with his trio. The two groups share a double bill at Power Center on Saturday, February 12.
[Originally published in February, 2011.]