From the talkative saxophone to the sparkling lilt of the sitar and the soft tak-tak of the tablas, the Indo-Pak Coalition is attempting to redefine jazz. They will bring their sound to the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
Comprised of Indian saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Pakistani guitarist Rez Abbasi, and tabla artist Dan Weiss, the band breaks away from the traditional drum set and guitars and instead infuses Indian/Pakistani themes within the jazz sound.
“It’s speaking to the side of American culture, that’s immigrant-based,” Mahanthappa says. “It’s great contemporary music that equally engages the soul and the intellect. The best music and the best art, the best things in the world, always engage both sides of the human condition.”
And it certainly does. Mahanthappa’s lively chords flow seamlessly with Weiss’ rising and falling notes on the tabla. Abbasi’s guitars fly in the area between, catching the ears with soft, gentle notes.
Mahanthappa’s inspiration came from “being Indian-American, finding that sort of middle group where concepts of Indian music and American music becomes synthesized. It’s part of who I am on a daily basis,” he says.
Voted No. 2 in the Downbeat International Critics Poll “Rising Star-Alto Saxophone” in 2008, Mahanthappa leads/co-leads seven groups to critical acclaim. His most recent release, Kinsmen, features Karnatik saxophone legend Kadri Gopalnath, and his previous quartet release, Codebook, was named one of the Top Jazz Albums of 2006 by The Village Voice, Jazztimes, and The Denver Post. As a composer, Mahanthappa has received commission grants from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund, American Composers Forum, and the New York State Council on the Arts, and is also a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow.
Mahanthappa says he picked up the saxophone when he was 8 years old. “I had a really good teacher who kept me interested and inspired.”
He says he wanted to start the band almost 15 years ago in Chicago, but he felt that something was missing. “It didn’t feel right mainly because I felt like there was a lot more I wanted to learn about Indian music, and in the following years I delved into Indian music in all sorts of different ways.”
After moving to New York more than 10 years ago, Mahanthappa started another version of the band and says that “(San Francisco) is one of the only other places outside New York that has a thriving interest and curiosity in jazz.”
The Indo-Pak Coalition has performed at major jazz festivals across the continent, such as the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival.
“I’ve always liked the SF Jazz Fest,” Mahanthappa says. “I always appreciate the variety. They present a lot of stuff, from really mainstream stuff to really forward-thinking, newer stuff and everything in between.”
Established in 1983, the San Francisco Jazz Festival has presented the Bay Area with countless jazz bands over the years. The SF Jazz Spring Season series began in 2000 with five weekends of jazz events each spring, according to the SF Jazz Fest Web site.
Mahanthappa says he is excited to perform. “We’re always excited too get out there and play. It’s always great to share this music with lots of people all over the world,” he says. “Touring is grueling, but we’re happy to be playing this music.”