Time Out New York

Album Review
Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa
Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz)

May 18-24, 2006
By K. Leander Williams

As a saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa is from the line of altoists recognizable by the bite that animates even their most soothing and slippery phrases. This trait—which links him to figures like Jackie McLean and Oliver Lake—becomes even more palpable when you consider that Mahanthappa surrounds himself with players whose steadfastness often throws his heated delivery into stark relief. His partnership with versatile pianist Vijay Iyer has borne much fruit in the decade since they first met, and though a lot has been made of their shared Indian-American heritage, the duo’s music is as much about the magnetism of opposites within the jazz avant-garde as it is about any vestigial connection to Eastern raga cycles.

Raw Materials, the team’s latest, is their most striking collaboration yet. A series of confident duets, the set combines stateliness with rawness, and also sees Mahanthappa stepping out of the shadows of his influences. At this point, Iyer and Mahanthappa are extremely comfortable stating unison themes—such as on “All the Names” and “Five Fingers Make a Fist”—often before sprinting off in different directions like receivers running intricate pass patterns. Iyer is prone to hammering out rolling ostinatos on these occasions, and yet it’s the balladic treatments, where each musician takes turns being soloist and accompanist (“Remembrance,” “Inside the Machine,” “Hope”), that really reveal their shared passions. It’s like seeing two sides of the same coin.