Now this throws me. The lead-off track to the upcoming Rudresh Mahanthappa album Hero Trio (Whirlwind) is a version of the June Carter-Merle Kilgore song made his own by Johnny Cash 'Ring of Fire'. The altoist stays close to the theme initially, with Rudy Royston rustling in the background and double bassist François Moutin pretty sturdy behind him. There are hints Mahanthappa is having a bit of fun but he seems to resist the temptation of playing around too much… and then there is the improvisation. He's always been a bebopper and he starts going up and down the scale within that wide angled lens, does double time bursts and more before coming back to the tempo he started out with which is fairly stately. Royston and Moutin are not his stooges but stay pretty much to faithfully sticking with the familiar aspects of the infrastructure of the tune, Moutin getting a little melodic himself. We are not talking deadpan here, more a case of it is what it is.
Actually a not too shabby treatment of a song I neither love nor hate but cannot avoid given in the days when you could step on to licensed premises without fear of contracting a fatal disease the chances were the pub singer would do a version of it before too long or someone would line the song up to play on the jukebox.
OK Sonny Rollins was on tenor not its bro in e♭ but check what the great one did in a similar format on Way Out West. Rudy Royston resists the urge to go clippety clop that Shelly Manne could not, it must be said.
Hero Trio was recorded less than two months ago in a New York studio. Mostly covers, and not country classics besides this one it's worth saying in case you get the wrong idea, there is an intriguing seque from Bird to Trane on 'Barbados/26-2' that I for one am looking forward to hearing when the album is out. Hopefully it all burns, burns, burns. How could it not? SG
Rudresh Mahanthappa, top. Photo: Bandcamp.