Saxophone Desi Style: Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kadri Gopalnath

The saxophone in the opening credits to this Tamil Film ("Duet") is by Kadri Gopalnath; it's unlike any other commercial film opening credits music you've ever heard. Gopalnath has been in the news quite a bit over the past few weeks, following his collaboration with Indian American jazz-maestro Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has a new album out called Apti. I haven't "Itunesed" Mahanthappa's album yet (any reviews? the excerpts played on Rudresh's NPR interview sound great), though I will be, but it prompted me to check out the Indian musician he's talking about. (Incidentally, Kadri Gopalnath has several albums for sale on Itunes as well, at the bargain price of $3.99 each.)

Here is a quote from the New Yorker piece on Mahanthappa that describes what Gopalnath is doing on Sax:

While Mahanthappa was at Berklee, his older brother teasingly gave him an album called “Saxophone Indian Style,” by Kadri Gopalnath. As far as Mahanthappa knew, “Indian saxophonist” was an oxymoron, but the album amazed him. Gopalnath, who was born in 1950, in Karnataka, plays a Western instrument in a non-Western context—the Carnatic music of Southern India (distinct from the Hindustani musical tradition of Northern India). Gopalnath, who generally plays in a yogalike seated position, has perfected something that jazz saxophonists have been attempting for decades: moving beyond the Western chromatic scale into the realm of microtones, a feat harder for wind instruments, whose keys are in fixed positions, than for strings or voice. Jazz players, such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler, had gone about it by varying intonation, blowing multiphonics (two or more notes at the same time), or squawking in the upper register, where pitches are imprecisely defined. Gopalnath does none of that. Using alternate fingerings and innovative embouchure techniques, he maintains faultless intonation while sliding in and out of the chromatic scale. (link)

I don't play any wind instruments, and I have no idea technically what "innovative embouchure techniques" might be describing, but it sure sounds hard.

Also check out: Mahanthappa interviewed on NPR.