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Imaginative saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa pays tribute to his various influences on the lean and taut Hero Trio, his 16th release as a leader. Covering works by Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, June Carter Cash, Stevie Wonder and others, Mahanthappa imbues the music with his distinctive style as he arranged the majority of the tracks.A notable exception, Mahanthappa’s poignant cinematic interpretation of Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” was arranged by Danilo Pérez. Bassist François Moutin contributes a lithe extemporization as Mahanthappa vigorously embellishes the main theme, and drummer Rudy Royston’s percolating beats drive this provocative take on a pop classic.On a medley of Parker’s “Barbados” and John Coltrane’s “26-2,” Mahanthappa builds on the first part’s angularity with vibrant tones, and deconstructs the second with sinewy lines and reverence. Moutin bisects the piece with an eloquent solo, and the trio’s freewheeling collective improvisation brims with electrifying virtuosity and refreshingly new ideas.
Moutin opens Coleman’s “Sadness” with a hypnotic con-arco drone. Mahanthappa adds to the mournfulness of this three-minute piece with his serpentine lines, as Royston creates a haunting ambience with his sparse cadence and splashing cymbals. Simmering exchanges among the musicians reveal both erudition and poetry.The trio’s read of “Ring of Fire” is similarly brief yet memorable. Mahanthappa pushes the boundaries of the melody with confident spontaneity, and though he flirts with dissonance, he keeps the song’s mellifluous core in sight. Moutin echoes the altoist with his agile reverberations while Royston lays down an elegant groove.Simultaneously bold and intimate, Hero Trio bears Mahanthappa’s uniquely personal touch. With his synergistic bandmates, the saxophonist has created a perfect homage to musical giants, one that highlights the ingenuity of the source material while maintaining his own singular sound. — Hrayr Attarian LISTEN OR BUY: