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Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition Rocks Litchfield Jazz Fest

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Wednesday August 09, 2017

From DownBeat

Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition Rocks Litchfield Jazz Fest
By: Phillip Lutz

A dozen years ago, Rudresh Mahanthappa seemed intent on establishing the kind of musical connection to his Indian heritage that his upbringing in Boulder, Colorado, hadn’t afforded him. So the alto saxophonist formed the Indo-Pak Coalition—a trio, with Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss on tabla, that toned down Western influences in favor of a more aggressively Hindustani sound. The group’s 2008 album, Apti (Innova), won over fans around the globe.

These days, if the trio’s appearance at Connecticut’s Litchfield Jazz Festival on Aug. 6 is any indication, Mahanthappa is seeking a more balanced cultural synthesis. And he isn’t necessarily looking to Charlie Parker for inspiration, though his previous release, Bird Calls (ACT), did so to great effect, being named Jazz Album of the Year in the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll.

As Mahanthappa explained during a pre-concert onstage interview with DownBeat Managing Editor Brian Zimmerman, he has long felt an affinity for the practitioners of progressive rock. His Litchfield set, with the Indo-Pak Coalition, proved the point.

The set was colored by an overlay of digitally distorted, delayed and doubled pitches. At the same time, Weiss’ tabla was augmented with parts of a Western drum set, yielding a kind of hybrid kit. While the band retained its collective voice, the musicians made full and forceful use of those enhancements. The effect was to conjure a range of sonic possibilities so expansive they would play as well on a stadium platform as on the Litchfield stage.

To be sure, the band continued to fashion an atmosphere of intimacy, opening the set with the traditional understated vehicle—“Alap,” a rubato meditation modeled on the introductions, common at Indian classical concerts, intended to connect player and listener. With Mahanthappa leaning heavily on his harmonizer, Abbasi on his reverb pedal and Weiss on his cymbals, billows of sound filled the Goshen Fairgrounds, enveloping everyone in earshot and preparing the way for the journey ahead.

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