AMN Reviews: Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Hero Trio – Animal Crossing (2022; Whirlwind Recordings); Scatter The Atoms That Remain – Emancipation Suite (2022; Mobility Music)

Today we have two high-energy creative jazz EPs. One focuses on interpreting known tunes from disparate sources, and the other is more of a free-for-all. Both releases will be out in February 2022.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Hero Trio – Animal Crossing

Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has been playing with bassist François Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston as the Hero Trio for a short time, and this is their second release. Each of the four tracks takes its theme from a known source – either a jazz standard or something else – and reinterprets the music. To that point, one of the “something else” sources is the video game Animal Crossing, which apparently was played frequently by the Mahanthappa children during lockdown. That and a reimagining of pop artist George Michael’s Faith are playful and yet intense. You can hear echoes of the original songs as gently mutilated by Mahanthappa, Moutin, and Royston. The rhythm section is active and goes well beyond the simple beats of the source material while Mahanthappa is explorative and colors outside any reestablished lines. Give It All You Got, on the other hand, is a more traditional cover of a Chuck Mangione piece though edging toward a darker place. The trio’s reading of Pat Metheny’s Missouri Uncompromised is appropriately virtuosic (with Moutin matching Jaco Pastorius in spirit as well as chops) and is an appropriate inclusion given how the arc of history also echoes in the present.

Scatter The Atoms That Remain – Emancipation Suite

With a title hiding nothing about their intent, Franklin Kiermyer (drums), Davis Whitfield (piano), Emilio Modeste (tenor sax), and Otto Gardner (bass) recorded this pair of open-ended improvisations right before COVID lockdowns began in 2020. In it, you will hear nods toward 60’s outside jazz – Ayler and late Coltrane most notably. Whitfield and Modeste engage in compelling dialogs with the former providing a thick set of chords and accentuated runs over which the latter wails. While not entirely “free” – in that certain themes repeat from time to time – these melodies are continuously expanded upon and explored. The rhythm section never lets up, with Kiermyer in particular stopping just short of going over the top. Despite its idiosyncratic nature, Emancipation Suite is a joyous and spiritual set that hits at a deep emotional level.

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