East meets West in a harmonious fusion

Special to The Times

"World music" has always been a generously inclusive label, encompassing the most rooted traditional expressions to glossy, studio-packaged assemblages of synths, grooves and aural exotica.

Where does an ensemble consisting of a Tibetan Buddhist nun and a pair of Minneapolis-based musicians fit into this kaleidoscopic picture? In a niche that is all its own, a place in which strikingly different cultural backgrounds find common creative cause.

The performance by this extraordinary trio -- Buddhist nun Ani Choying Drolma, guitarist Steve Tibbetts and percussionist Mark Anderson -- Thursday at the Skirball Center was an intriguing display of empathic cross-cultural musicality.

Drolma, who entered a nunnery at 13 (she is now 33), has been educated in meditation, chants, rituals and ceremonies. A transcendent figure on stage, she conveyed the chants and the songs in vocal timbres alternately throaty and guttural, warm-toned and lyrical, shimmering with an inner sense of spirituality. Tibbetts, who has been releasing fascinating recordings since his initial, eclectic album, "YR," in 1980, is no world-music dilettante, having traveled frequently to Nepal (and elsewhere). His warm guitar playing, enhanced by the occasional triggering of subtle audio textures, added welcome harmonic foundations to Drolma's largely pentatonic melodies. Anderson's percussion -- cymbals, tabla drums, frame drums and more -- enhanced the music without intruding on its focus.

There were a few passages, to be sure, in which the balance between East and West tilted a bit too far in the direction of lush, Western entertainment qualities. More often, Drolma, Tibbetts and Anderson revealed the appealing aspects of world music's inclusive cultural embrace.

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