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What’s best about Raw Materials is what’s most familiar. Pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa make it clear in the album’s liner notes that the two are profoundly at ease with each other, having played together for a decade in each other’s quartets and in this never-before-recorded duo project. They also make a great deal of the fact that this collaboration allows them the chance to get in touch with their roots—they are, after all, South Asian–Americans who grew up in the U.S. and formally studied Western instruments and performance traditions. When Raw Materials ventures successfully into the exotic, it does so because Iyer and Mahanthappa have already mastered music more easily grasped by Western ears, such as the hints of Santana’s Abraxas that litter the album (e.g., the exploratory staccato piano that opens the first track) and the play of melodic warmth and abrasiveness in the track “Frontlash,” which begs comparison to Rashied Ali–era Coltrane. The pair even sauce “Forgotten System” with some Scott Joplin–style swing. Their interplay on solos—or more appropriately, duets—soars on almost every track. Even when things get overly familiar, such as when Iyer’s let-everything-go solos echo Keith Jarrett’s similar keyboard storms, it’s hardly a disappointment. Nor is the fact that it’s not until the fourth track, “Remembrance,” that Mahanthappa finally deploys a melody with something in it that sounds particularly “Eastern.” Only in the moments when the duo smooth-jazzes its intensity, on tunes like “Five Fingers Make a Fist,” does this fusion fall flat—there’s something about the duo’s kitschy suspended chords and “this is a comp” feel that just doesn’t support the kind of spiritual exploration of time and melody that they’re attempting here. Fortunately, by the time the pair digs into the slow, almost sexy vibe of “Come Back” or the tricky, esoteric “Fly Higher,” they’re doing all the right things again. Iyer and Mahanthappa don’t need Eastern majesty or an exotic pulse to bring the album home—they never really left.—Ian Martinez