Music Review | World Music Institute

A Globe's Worth of Music,Stirred Into a Festive Jam

Published: May 23, 2005
Watching musicians watch other musicians was part of the charm of the World Music Institute's 20th anniversary benefit concert on Saturday night at Town Hall. Two dozen musicians were gathered onstage, and as they played together they were clearly savoring one another's skills while taking mental notes.

The concert was a montage of what the World Music Institute has been doing since Robert and Helene Browning began presenting music at the Alternative Center for International Arts, an art gallery, in 1976. They started the nonprofit World Music Institute in 1985. Its concerts usually feature musicians working in a single tradition or related ones, but Saturday's show was more like a backstage jam at a world-music festival. After the institute's decades of presenting and preserving traditional music, for one night context could be traded for a Web-style surf through global virtuosity.

The Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain and the American percussionist Adam Rudolph were the music directors. They grouped international assortments of flutes, drums and strings. There was also a flamenco prelude (by the guitarist Arturo Martínez and his group, Gazpacho Andalu) and an all-comers finale.

The percussionists, all playing hand drums, were the flashiest performers. Mr. Hussain made his tablas patter and swoop and ring; Mr. Rudolph sat on a boxlike instrument and transformed a simple waltz into something far more complex. Abbos Kosimov, from Uzbekistan, played the tambourinelike doira with hyperspeed syncopations; then two doiras together, then three. Giovanni Hidalgo, a Puerto Rican salsa mainstay, juggled tones and rhythms on five tightly tuned conga drums that became a dynamo.

Brahim Fribgane, from Morocco, played skittering rhythms on dumbek; Dende, from Brazil, merged a strutting beat and annuciatory salvos on a single drum; and John Joe Kelly, an Englishman with Irish roots, made his bodhran clatter with quick dance beats and sliding tones.

The flutists included Brian Finnegan from Northern Ireland, who brought jazz flutter-tonguing to fierce Irish melodies; Bailo Bah from Guinea, playing in the Fulani style that uses huffing, whooping and singing through the tambin (wooden flute) to make every phrase assertive, along with Sylvain Leroux on a second tambin; and Steve Gorn, playing curvaceous lines on an Indian bansuri.

The string players were more introspective. Ustad Sultan Khan on sarangi, a bowed instrument with sympathetic strings, created songful raga phrases, then accelerated along with Mr. Hussain's tabla. Simon Shaheen on oud and Ali Jihad Racy on saz, a long-necked lute that sounds something like a banjo, shared Middle Eastern melodies: Mr. Shaheen with insistent, dramatic tremolos, Mr. Racy with more pensive, conversational phrases. Mr. Racy also shook the hall with a solo on mijwiz, a two-pipe, double-reed flute that blared overlapping, echoing lines. For her solos on the pipa, a Chinese lute, Min Xiao-Fen played and sang pieces that interspersed Monk and Ellington tunes with Chinese melodies - more novelty than fusion.

The finale, with percussionists meshed below a melodic free-for-all, wasn't quite the Tower of Babel. But by counterexample, it suggested the value of presenting traditional music unmingled, as the World Music Institute has been doing for 20 years.

Jack Vartoogian/FrontRow Photos
Zakir Hussain with his tablas during Saturday's concert at Town Hall



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