in performance: rudresh mahanthappa with the osland/dailey jazztet

rudresh mahanthappa. photo by ethan levitas

It began more like a séance than a jazz concert. With the rhythm section of Lexington’s Osland/Dailey Jazztet playing under him last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall, Rudresh Mahanthappa played an Eastern-infused wail in a register so low and open, one had to do a double take to confirm it was indeed coming out of an alto saxophone. The tune, “Bird Calls #1,” was the leadoff piece from a 2015 album (“Bird Calls”) Mahanthappa cut of original music based on composed and improvised melodies by Charlie Parker. But what surfaced here seemed more like something from the church of John Coltrane. Then the music collapsed into “On the DL,” which took a lyrical nod from Parker’s “Donna Lee” but accelerated at such a treacherous gallop that Mahanthappa’s dizzying solos soared past you like mile markers on a highway. What resulted was a muscular jazz sound that was an aural thrill ride, full of warp speed solos undercut by muscular, though often unexpected senses of swing.

A globally acclaimed jazz bandleader, educator and instrumentalist (he was named Alto Saxophonist of the Year in Downbeat magazine’s International Critics’ Poll six out of the last seven years), Mahanthappa used much of the 90 minute performance with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet as his band to redress the music of “Bird Calls.” In fact, six of the set’s nine tunes were pulled from the album. On the record, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill was the second horn player and Mahanthappa’s primary musical foil. Last night, University of Kentucky jazz pro Miles Osland, a second alto sax man, co-piloted the fun. Despite the mirroring instrumentation, there were remarkable contrasts revealed within the playing, from the criss-crossing solos within “Chillin’” to the artful tempo shifts during “Maybe Later “ that keenly accelerated the swing as the tune concluded.

Perhaps the most curious tradeoff took place during one the evening’s few journeys outside of “Bird Calls.” For the 2010 piece “Playing with Stones,” bassist Danny Cecil used an extended bass solo rich in texture and expression that enhanced the composition’s ominous ambience before Mahanthappa and pianist Raleigh Dailey played solos off each other.

A sumptuous ballad, “My Sweetest,” along with a playful, punctuated outro snippet titled “Man, Thanks for Coming” (which returned the repertoire to “Bird Calls” with references to Parker’s “Anthropology”) wound the set down with the former favoring a slice of ensemble reflection that faded into a playfully aggressive solo from Mahanthappa and the latter exhibiting a brief but potent reprise of the rhythmic twists and animated turns that colored so much of this enchanting performance.



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