Review | World Music Institute
Globe's Worth of Music,Stirred Into a Festive Jam
By JON PARELES
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Zakir Hussain with his tablas during Saturday's concert at Town Hall