Rudresh Mahanthappa ft. François Moutin and Rudy Royston – Hero Trio
(Whirlwind Recordings WR 4760. CD review by Dan Bergsagel)
In 2015 Rudresh Mahanthappa recorded Bird Calls, a quintet session of original pieces inspired by Charlie Parker. Five years later the group returned to the studio to record Hero Trio with three key differences: they had jettisoned the piano and trumpet, none of the pieces are original, and they aren’t all about Bird. Instead, Hero Trio blends Mahanthappa arrangements of Parker favourites with a surprising selection from the Great American Songbook and beyond.
Mahanthappa is not one to stick to subgenres so this shouldn’t be unexpected, but for me the soundscape on Hero Trio – readily mixing familiar pop and familiar bebop – is.
There is a plaintive, spacious take of I Can’t Get Started, Mahanthappa leaning into the silence with a largely absent bass, paired with a brooding and intense Barbados/26-2. In contrast, the Parker/Coltrane tracks feature a busy double bass backing and wandering range solo from François Moutin.
We’re also treated to a glorious twisting version of The Windup, straight in its representation aside from being one piano short of a Keith Jarrett quartet, paired with an ostentatiously jarring Ring of Fire, the Cash classic played once through before being deconstructed.
The arrangements can be more wide-ranging, as with the initially unrecognisable muscular bass alongside rollicking high-pace drums from Rudy Royston on I’ll Remember April, or the restructured storytelling melody of Danilo Perez’s arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed. But the core of the album – and the trio – is set around the energy of Charlie Parker, and it starts and ends with Mahanthappa enjoying himself in a blistering version of Red Cross, and a concise Dewey Square. And it is on these two tunes that the absence of a piano seems key. It is not obvious that anything is lacking, but just unusual in that there is a clear promotion of the drums and booming double bass. Each musician is busy, yet there is still so much space for them to move in.
Hero Trio was recorded in January in NJ and mixed in February in Brooklyn, at a time when the three protagonists happily posed in foam muscle suits and metallic spandex. It was released in London (Whirlwind) in June, at the end of the harrowing couple of months in the New York Metro area that were April and May. During that time the world was stripped to its basics, and in that context the three-part renderings of Parker and others – with Mahanthappa, Moutin and Royston all so exposed and audible – feels like it might inadvertently become not just a statement of Mahanthappa’s deep admiration for Parker, but also of music appropriate to that time. And I guess we could all still do with some heroes now!