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Zakir Hussain at SF Jazz

Last month I attended my first performance at the new SF Jazz Center Robert N. Miner auditorium.  Bob was a dear friend of mine, and he loved jazz.  While a very private guy, I think he would have thought it pretty cool to be remembered this way.  Is is a beautiful and intimate hall.  I'll write more about the first concert,which was Dave Holland's Prism, in my next post.  Last night's concert was Zakir Hussain, and it was amazing.  Zakir is perhaps the most accomplished musician of any genre currently living (as was Ravi Shankar).  Staggering technique, a great listener, a deep spirituality, and a sense of humor and showmanship allow him to chaarm and amaze even those unfamiliar with Indian classical music.  The purpose of this concert was to introduce young musicians to the west that Zakir believes are the leaders of the future.  Rakesh Chaurasia (the nephew of Hariprasad  Chaurasia, who I saw perform an amazing concert with Ravi and Ali Akbar Khan at Berkeley Community many years ago) on bansuri  (bamboo flutes) Niladri Kumar on sitar, and Ganesh Rajagopalan on violin.  As Zakir stated, it is an unusual instrumentation for Indian classical music.  Each instrument was featured in a raga.  They would start with the traditional alap, and then expand and build tension and tempo.  There was a distinct western edge to some of the themes, and occasionally a music cue would trigger a rehearsed unison band line, ala Weather Report or late 60's Miles.  And like Miles, it was obvious that Zakir was there to listen to his young players.  Often with eyes closed and hands folded in his lap for the alaps.  And then, with the flick of a wrist, a world of explosive percussion would wash over the audience.  Aficionados and novices alike are stunned by his virtuosity.  He reminds us that  time and polyrythyms are infinite.  As Charles Mingus said, he plays around the core of the beat, without ever having to state it.  Niladri hit harmonics and double stops (which aren't used in Indian music) and bent notes in western blues and rock scales, as well as the traditional rags.  The second set took on an even more overt western tinge, with quotes from Smoke On The Water, and the theme to The Good, The Bad, and Thge Ugly (which even Zakir quoted).  These players have mastered their music, and feel free to incorporate other musics within the framework of their art.  Just as jazz and rock and roll have influenced young flamencos, and of course Indian music has influenced rock and roll, and jazz, for over 50 years.  Bravo Zakir!