Accompanied by a tight, energetic band consisting of guitarist David Fiuczynski, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Jordan Perlson, Maranthappa planted his feet in front of the microphone at the Jazz Kitchen, closed his eyes, and unleashed a torrent of controlled bellowing through his horn, keyed to patterns derived from the music of his ancestral homeland but fully tradition-free. Maranthappa's articulation was as amazing as his energy; this alto saxophonist could make Kenny Garrett seem lackadaisical in comparison.
The saxophone statements sometimes were linked to the guitar and sometimes went in their own direction as the guitar matched the bass. Elsewhere, bass and drums entered into intense interplay. Thus, despite the band's makeup of just four instruments, there was endless variety in pairing and re-pairing the ensemble's constituents, making it sound like larger forces were being brought into play.
Fiuczynski held the front line securely along with the leader, playing his two-necked guitar with purposeful abandon and stylistic versatility — evoking the shimmer and microtonality of the sitar as well as Western pop styles from rock to rockabilly.
In contrast to the power-driven pieces, the first-set audience enjoyed the offhand whimsy of "Stay I," an odd title inspired by the missing letters on an LED sign along the New Jersey Turnpike that was supposed to read "Stay In Lane." And there was a chance to contemplate turmoil in the larger world in the reflective, episodic "Ballad for Troubled Times." That gave Maranthappa the opportunity to indicate his whirlwind approach to the horn encompasses introspection as well as head-spinning intensity — syncretism with a vengeance, but uniquely welcoming.