Commissioned by the New York State Council on the Arts, the music on Mother Tongue presents Mahanthappa's engagement with the varied languages of India. Often asked the question, "Do You Speak Indian?" or "Do You Speak Hindu?” Rudresh has created compositions that are directly based on melodic transcriptions of Indian-Americans responding to such questions in their native Indian tongues. Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone), Vijay Iyer (piano), Francois Moutin (bass) and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums), interpret and reconfigure seven languages of India through their own musical language; a language that has grown deeply since their last recording, Black Water, in 2002. The astounding results make up the core of this CD.
His sound can be described as a cross between the rhythmic investigations of Steve Coleman and the introspective searching lyricism of John Coltrane. This alone though misses the larger picture of what makes Rudresh’s sound so personal as well as accessible. Rudresh’s tone cuts to the heart of the note. His inflections and use of quartertones add a vocal element that makes odd rhythmic groupings or unusual melodic choices sound natural. On an album dealing with language, it is this quality that stands out. The melodies and solos transcend their musical settings; they speak to you much in the manner of the spoken words upon which they are based.
Each track embodies an unprecedented level of communication both through composition and improvisation. Mahanthappa’s band, a rhythm section that is clearly setting the pace for jazz in New York, elevates his blazing yet thoughtful solos. In particular, “The Preserver”, “Kannada”, “Gujarati”, and “Change of Perspective” showcase this band's enchanting ability to paint the most thought provoking musical paintings over remarkably different rhythmic and harmonic landscapes. “Point of View” offers a chance to hear Rudresh's solo improvisation where one truly hears the references to his Indian ancestry. Mother Tongue as a whole embraces jazz through Rudresh’s bi-cultural identity.