'I consider myself a student'

'I consider myself a student'
A diasporic inclination and a thirst to explore the ocean of music led to the birth of ‘Gamak’ by artiste Rudresh Mahanthappa, a second- generation Indian American from Italy. ‘Gamak’ is the hybrid child of a seamless marriage between the dreamy, harmonic jazz and melodic Carnatic music. Featuring Rudresh on the saxophone, Dan Weiss on drums and Rich Brown on bass ‘Gamak’ recently took the City by storm at Windmills Craftsworks, Whitefield.

The trio performed an unprecedented set-list which defied genres and traversed through time. Though fusion bands and East-West collaborations are in plenty, ‘Gamak’ is unique as its repertoire bursts of a treasure trove of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic embellishments. With a foot in both cultures, Rudresh’s music comprises Indian influences despite being a jazz artiste at heart and he strives to explore fresh tunes in traditional genres.

A man of few words and mind as sharp as the ‘C’ note in the piano, Rudresh works by breaking his two favourite genres into their structures and rebuilding the notes from there, so as to produce a pure, refined sound.

He says, “I believe jazz and Carnatic meet at various points in terms of rhythm which helps me take either genre forward. Melodies make up for the lack of harmonies in Indian music and combining melodic ornamentation and embellishment with Western scales can produce a stylised form of sound which I try to accomplish.” Rudresh hopes that the saxophone will someday become more popular in the Carnatic world and be treated as a mainstream instrument like the ‘mridangam’ and ‘ghatam’. He adds, “The saxophone has a long way to go in Carnatic music. Kadri, my teacher and inspiration, still remains the only man who thought outside the box and revolutionised Carnatic music by bringing in the saxophone.”

But he strictly refrains himself from calling ‘Gamak’ a fusion band. “I don’t like the word fusion. It’s too abused today. Authenticity is the root of any band and one has to take time to study individual genres and understand different artforms to be able to combine them. There are many collaborations which sound horrible. I would never represent any genre superficially as that would be representing myself superficially.” And the term ‘jazz revival’ outrages him equally.

“‘Jazz revival’ means that jazz was dead at some point and I feel that is a stupid statement to make. I like to believe that jazz is a contemporary form of expression and music survives as long as it reaches out to people, be it jazz or any other genre.” His tours continue and after his stint in Bengaluru, he will perform in Colombo and then head home. “I love Bengaluru and my parents grew up in Malleswaram. Though I despise the traffic, I love the energy.”

Rudresh Mahanthappa is a walking encyclopedia of tunes that dance out of him. For instance, he recalls that the 60s and 70s in the West were harsh on Indian music as they saw it as a very exotic artform that lacked a structural base. He can also identify a ‘raga’ in Carnatic that runs parallel to a verse in jazz. But he hopes to keep his mind sharp only by learning more in music. He adds, “My advise to students is to learn as much as they can in music. If they want to study jazz, they must come to USA and if they want to study Carnatic, they must go to Chennai so that they feel fulfilled. I consider myself a perpetual student.”

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