New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Zakir hussain

An Astonishingly Eclectic, Global Album and an Auspicious Laurie Anderson Collaboration at BAM from the Kronos Quartet

The original indie classical ensemble, the Kronos Quartet – violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Sunny Yang – are teaming up with Laurie Anderson for what promises to be one of the year’s best, and potentially one of the decade’s most auspicious runs at BAM next week. They’lll be performing their collaboration, Landfall, which explores Anderson’s experiences during Hurricane Sandy here in New York a couple of years ago. The concerts run from Sept 23 to Sept 27 at 7:30 PM. $20 balcony seats are still available as of today. You’ve been given the heads-up – this could be major.

The Kronos Quartet’s latest album, A Thousand Thoughts – streaming at Spotify – is also pretty major. It’s basically a survey of string music from around the globe, accent on intense and substantial. It’s also an unusually successful take on a format that’s often overrated and underwhelming: pairing a famous group with a bunch of equally famous special guests. But the Quartet has always been a mutable unit, as these fifteen tracks – recorded across the years, with every Kronos Quartet lineup – prove over and over again. They literally can play anything, yet always manage to put their own individualistic, out-of-the-box stamp on it. Celtic traditional music reinvented as ambient soundscape? Check. The Blind Willie Johnson delta blues tune Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground remade as Vietnamese art-song, with eerily quavering dan bao from Van-Anh Vanessa Vo? Doublecheck.

Maybe what’s most enjoyable here is that virtually all of these performance are acoustic. To be completely fair, when the Kronos Quartet have employed electronics, those effects aren’t usually gratuitous: the group tends to use them for extra atmospheric bulk and heft when a piece calls for it. But these performances are intimate, with an immediacy and vivid chemistry among the ensemble and with the guests. The Quartet teams up with Syrian star Omar Souleyman for a Bollywood-ish jam with biting accents and swirling microtones over a steady, hypnotic beat. Vo returns to join her countryman Kim Sinh for another alternately spiky and swooping Vietnamese number. A suspensefully crescendoing, rather epic Ethiopian theme by Ethiopiques sax legend Gétatchèw Mèkurya is one of the album’s highlights.

A far more stark, haunting highlight is Sim Sholom, by klezmer legend Alter Yechiel Karniol. A long, dynamically rich, slowly unwinding take of a Turkish classical theme by early 20th century composer Tanburi Cemil Bey might be the best track of them all. Or it could be the spare, haunting Greek gangster blues tune Smyrneiko Minore. Or for that matter, a rare. achingly beautiful excerpt from Astor Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations featuring the great bandoneonist/composer himself.

There’s also a shapeshiftingly lush Terry Riley piece featuring the vocals of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares; a Homayun Sakhi Afghani rubab tune that straddles the line between Middle Eastern and Indian music; a scampering collaboration with Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man on a rousing traditional song; and a little gentle Bollywood and Irish folk at the end. It’s an apt summation of this group’s hall of fame career, one that simply refuses to stop.

Indian Music Fans Sell Out Shivkumar Sharma’s Town Hall Show

[ File this under “you missed a good one,” if you weren’t there – repost from sister blog Lucid Culture, as the April concert calendar update continues…]

For a player who aspires to mystically become one with the music on any given night, Indian santoor virtuoso Shivkumar Sharma is one funny guy. At his sold-out show last night at the Town Hall, he and percussionist Zakir Hussain egged each other on, trading deadpan riffage, goosing each other with trick endings, pregnant pauses and a tongue-in-cheek Bollywood or folk music quote or two all the way to a mad dash for the finish line at the end of roughly two hours onstage. While most of their jokes were musical, Sharma isn’t above messing with the audience. He wondered aloud if the numerous toddlers in the house would prove to be sonic competition (they were), and in tuning his 86 strings, turned what could have been an ordeal into a lively, even plaintive melody. Hussain played bad cop to Sharma’s poker-faced good cop for most of the concert, firing off a series of long launching-pad tabla solos that began as total buffoonery and were then toned down a bit. But the most irresistibly comedic moment of the night belonged to Sharma, when he finally decided to outdo his sparring partner – and Hussain was there in a split second, as usual, this time to play straight man as Sharma ramped up his solo with a muffled, muted, over-the-top bombast.

In between jokes, the concert was 180 degrees from that. Sharma is to the santoor – the Indian hammered dulcimer, godfather to the Egyptian qanun, Hungarian cimbalom and the many zithers – what Les Paul was to the guitar. As a young prodigy, Sharma revolutionized the instrument, expanding its range and giving it a sustain that made it compatible with ensembles larger than the small groups employing it for traditional Kashmiri vocal repertoire. Bollywood – which he stoically made fun of, notwithstanding the fact that he’s one of the music’s founding fathers – wouldn’t be the same without his influence. At 75, his fingers are no less nimble on the hammers than they were forty years ago: if anything, he’s even subtler now, judiciously improvising from a steady march to a dancing, rippling, ringingly anthemic energy and alternating fiery pedal-note lines with whispery glissandos as the concert wore on. His first alap (jam) picked up steam when Hussain entered with a stately 4/4 beat that artfully morphed to 7/4 and then the jousting began. Sharma’s second solo improvisation was more deliberate and cut to the chase more quickly, Hussain wasting no time trading licks, shadowing and weaving in between Sharma’s increasingly agitated cadenzas and downward progressions. Their gallop to the finish was a rich reminder that music, in the right hands, doesn’t have to be dark to be deep. Sharma will no doubt be back in town at some point in the not-too-distant future – keep an eye on the World Music Institute calendar.

And it was interesting to see who came out for this one: a young, hungry, scruffy, mostly Indian posse, with the usual scattering of old hippies. Just as American millennials have gone back in droves to oldtime country and blues, the new generation of Indians are embracing their own roots music. Computerized beats may be everywhere, but nobody’s listening.