When: Fri., Feb. 26, 8 p.m. 2016
There are a ton of highly skilled young jazz musicians today, but as the genre continues deeper into its second century, technique and fluency aren’t enough to make a new talent stand out. That’s a fact long understood by protean alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who brings conceptual rigor to his music and regularly cooks up themes that put his fiery playing in fresh contexts. This week he debuts his latest project, the quintet that made last year’s explosive Bird Calls (ACT). Like many jazz artists before him, Mahanthappa is paying homage to bebop giant Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, but he doesn’t merely revisit his hero’s repertoire and adopt his sound. Rather he isolates specific DNA from some of Bird’s most important compositions and solos to create new tunes that are, in most cases, utterly unrecognizable. His piece “Maybe Later” retains the rhythmic patterns of Parker’s definitive solo on “Now’s the Time” but totally changes the notes, while “Both Hands” rejiggers the melody line of Bird’s “Dexterity” by removing all of its rests, transforming the tune into a breakneck tangle. Jazz musicians have a long tradition of writing new tunes based on the chord changes of standards, but Mahanthappa indulges in this practice only once: the lovely ballad “Sure Why Not?” is derived from both “Confirmation” and “Barbados,” songs that moved at much swifter tempos. He’s helped immensely by a superb band that includes hot young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, and drummer Rudy Royston, who sounds especially frenetic.