Zakir Hussain: Making Music (ECM 1349)

 

Zakir Hussain
Making Music

Zakir Hussain tabla, percussion, voice
Hariprasad Chaurasia flutes
John McLaughlin acoustic guitar
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Recorded December 1986 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In March of 2010, I had the great honor of seeing Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion give an unforgettable performance. I had always been a great admirer of him, but to experience that blissful power firsthand was beyond special. This liveness can hardly be replicated on disc, though we can still feel the passion that imbues his every action in the studio and beyond.

The key to Making Music lies in its title. This is not about a fusion of East and West. This is about creation for its own sake. The selfsame track opens our ears to the flute of Hariprasad Chaurasia, who turns breath into gold. Guitarist and Mahavishnu Orchestra guru John McLaughlin is another welcome addition to a quartet rounded out by saxophonist Jan Garbarek. As lines curve their way through subtle changes in temperature, we can feel the rhythm being formed, piece by ephemeral piece, even before Hussain lays hands to drum. Garbarek works some of that same magic that enlivened his earlier recordings with Shankar, while McLaughlin showcases his mastery of classical forms (the duet with Hussain on “You And Me” is one of many highlights), matching the tabla master’s deftness with ease.

Yet Chaurasia is the jewel of this session. His dialogues with McLaughlin (“Zakir” and “Sabah”) in particular reveal a purity of tone all his own. Sometimes, he lowers the threads from which the music hangs, pulling us along with them into a verdant sky. Others, he bends like an outstretched leaf hit by the first raindrop of spring (“Toni”). The album’s remainder is filled with rainbows. The most verdant of these is “Water Girl,” a mosaic spread with saffron and rosewater, willed into life by that generative flute. Garbarek makes his voice clearest in “Anisa,” which first pairs him with McLaughlin in an exchange at once forlorn and sweet before Hussain regales with such grace that one has to wonder if his fingers aren’t pure energy. After this saga of tribulation and triumph, Garbarek’s skyward incantation in “Sunjog”—incidentally, another standout for McLaughlin, who shares a winged exchange with everyone in turn—proves well suited to this musical nexus, for he, like the others, plays not in unison but in tandem, and in so doing binds the overall unity toward which they strive together. And so, when they do join in the occasional doubling, the sound becomes gentler, each voice restraining itself so as not to overpower.

Hussain is a carpenter who delicately hammers the edges of every project he touches into perfect alignment. Yet after listening to Making Music, one has the feeling this project had only just begun.

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