MUSIC REVIEWS : Hussain Percussion Thrills at UCLA

Inspired by the presence in the audience of master sitarist Ravi Shankar, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain’s seven-member percussion band called the Rhythm Experience played an exciting concert for an SRO crowd in Schoenberg Hall at UCLA, Saturday night.

Drawing on his extensive work with top traditional and fusion musicians, Hussain and colleagues Aushim Chaudhuri, Syed Arshad, Vince Delgado, Dana Pandey, Michael Lewis and Tommy Kesecker made their premiere performance in Los Angeles a memorable one.

Although the sound was often colored by the cool New Age moods of vibraphonist Kesecker, the music’s core energy owed most to Hussain’s exhilarating virtuosity, while its coherence rested on the band’s mastery of formal Indian rhythmic structure and improvisation.

The third work on the program, for example, “In homage to Cecil Taylor,” began with a ritualistic, Balinese-accented fanfare by Arshad on hand drums and proceeded with a hazy vibraphone drone that Hussain on bongos then reflectively overrode. Thirty minutes later, Delgado’s mesmerizing, five-minute solo on an empty stage closed the first half of the program.


Added to the superb music making, Hussain’s charm and self-deprecating manner, the frequent use of audience-pleasing, scat-type vocalizing, and the appearance of an enthusiastic if eclectic crew of dancers--plus the audience’s whoops, whistles and screams--were an accurate indicator of the evening’s entertainment value.

In sum, the music-making was so relentlessly celebratory that it wouldn’t have been surprising, on being introduced to Hussain or one of his colleagues, to find them shaking your hand while thwacking you a few on the head to test it for resonance.