Rajesh Mehta,
(Hatology, 1999)

Rajesh Mehta Collective 3,
Window Shopping
(True Muze, 1999)

You see him on the cover of the Hatology solo/duet disc, blowing into a pair of trumpets connected by plastic tubing. Oh dear, you think; a gimmick. But listen to the track "Not Yet," and the viability of the instrument becomes surprisingly clear, even if the precise mechanics remain mysterious. Playing a delicate but almost monotonous line on the horn at his lips, Mehta is able to interject harmonisations, rhythmic stabs and ostinati into the piece, making a simple and unpromising solo part glisten.

Mehta, then, is no ordinary trumpet-player. His "hybrid trumpet," visually bewitching as it is, is just the beginning. He has a huge range of extended techniques, paraded to the full on Orka, from delicate microtonalities to the steam-engine sounds which are becoming part of the trumpet's new vocabulary. Still, Mehta is only partly interested in showing off his chops. He's also there to make music, and fine music it is too. It ranges from the Indo-Arabic title track with its repeating melodic cells and additive rhythms, through the piercing delicacies of "Difftones" to "Leslie's Plumbing," with its grainy abstraction.

The solo pieces on this disc are revealing, but the duets with drummer Paul Lovens are more numerous. Lovens plays a textural role and, while the sleeve notes are right to deny a traditional melody/rhythm division between the two players, for the most part the percussionist takes a back seat. That's fine; this is Mehta's show, and as an introduction to his playing it makes a strong impression.

Even stronger, perhaps, is the impression he makes in a group setting. Playing solo, as long as one has the chutzpah and the ideas, is one thing -- forming a group to play your compositions is quite another. Mehta, although brought up in the United States and now resident in Europe, was born in Calcutta, and he brings an affinity for Karnatic music to the Collective 3. Hence, his approach to composition is rather skewed from the expected head arrangements.

Take "Revolving Doors," composed as it is of a series of melodic cells which may be played in any order, embellished, and used as improvisational jumping-off points. The piece has a modal feel (although it isn't) and the trio, because they are working from shared materials which are never openly stated, sound as if they all spring from some obscure micro-tradition. It's an effective approach.

This is the only trio piece on the disc, but the two trumpets (with Felicity Provan) and the wonderfully literate drumming of Alan Purves form the core of the others. Paul Southamer's cello takes an excellent solo on "Nagaraja," a tune structured in a rather Hindustani manner; it even begins with an elaboration of the melody in alap and gat. He also provides great ensemble support throughout. Guitarist Tom Fryer, meanwhile, sounds oddly like an avant garde John Scofield. He has a pinched tone and a very funky sense of time on the frankly bizarre "Grublein," where he proves he can mix it up with the best of them in the freer passages, too.

Mehta is a player who, without exoticising the Indian influence, manages through it to bring something very distinctive to his playing and, in particular, his compositions. As a soloist he is sure-footed; in duet with Lovens he interacts with his partner but has the confidence to take the wheel. (Lovens, to his credit, has the confidence to let him, too.) In the trio and larger groupings, his compositions really come to the fore, and his ability to forge a unique sound is given free reign. These two discs, then, give a very convincing account of Mehta's talents. Window Shopping is particularly recommended, although trumpet freaks will find Orka essential, too. Doubtless he has a few more tricks up his sleeve yet; a player -- and a group -- to watch.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]