One of the most enthralling experiences in a music lovers’ life is to be there when melodies and rhythms are brought to life, to see the spontaneous combustion between musical talents, to witness the making of great music.
Moment Records’ latest DVD release, called Zakir Hussain—The SFJazz Sessions is just that. It is a presentation of the extraordinary four days and nights in March 2013, during the inaugural season of the San Francisco Jazz Center, when Zakir Hussain threw a party for his friends to meet his other friends (paraphrased from an interview in the DVD).
The line up includes Bela Fleck, banjo; Edgar Meyer, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Ganesh Rajagopalan, violin; George Brooks, saxophone; Giovanni Hidalgo, conga; Niladri Kumar, sitar; Rakesh Chaurasia, flute; and Steve Smith, drums.
It is to the credit of the directors Anisa Qureshi and Taylor Phillips that we feel the presence of Hussain as the host of this party. Throughout the three hours of the DVD, we get to see him performing and talking: Excerpts from an interview, behind-the-scenes, back stage before show time, even driving. When the audience sings for him on his birthday, we get to hear him say sheepishly, “Don’t ask me my age!”
The DVD is a compilation of excerpts from 12 performances, the first of which is the electrifying “Naubat.” Smith paces the rhythm by vocalizing the beats. Even as one’s mind tries to compute this, Hussain renders an answering salvo of his own bols, sets the house on fire with his tabla and invites Hidalgo to join in. He does, resoundingly so, ably matched by Harland. This piece is a frenzied jugalbandi—the tempo does not let up, you can see the energy reverberate off the musicians.
“Aarambh” is aptly introduced by Hussain ruminating about his own beginnings- his father whispering rhythms in his ear when he was two days old, his time performing as a young teen, and finally saying, “You are born to do something in this world, and you come down and you do that.”
This piece features Rajagopalan, of the Ganesh-Kumaresh violin duo. The camaraderie between him, Kumar, Chaurasia and Hussain is highlighted by the interlude when ripples of notes and half notes are seemingly intuitively passed around in true sawal-jawab style.
“Bubbles” is an enchanting reprise from the Fleck-Mayer-Hussain album “The Melody of Rhythm.” “Rapt, No Strings, Part 1” has jazz singer Molly Holm singing Rumi’s verses to Brooks’ saxophone, while Antonia Minnecola, Hussain’s wife, enlivens the poetry with a crisp Kathak rendition. “Rapt, No Strings, Part 2” is a celebration of the guru-shishya bond, with Hussain challenging his students (including Dana Pandey and Salar Nader) while at the same time gently guiding them along.
Hussain comments on the improvisational nature of Indian music, wondering what kind of music will unfold, but adding at the start of “Sangat” that, “I am content in the feeling that the musicians I have with me will carry me through.” The magic of unrehearsed events, especially music, is in the first few minutes, when you hold your breath only for it to be taken away by the brilliance of combined melody or rhythm. With “Sangat” you forget to breathe altogether after.
Chaurasia, featured here, starts with a compelling call to your inner self, his music displaying and commanding a refreshing honesty. He then breaks up the melody with staccato breaths on his flute, inviting Hussain to accompany him. Continuing to be the enigmatic sutradhaar, he invites Rajagopalan and Kumar to follow them into a complex weaving of notes.
“Taalkonakol” starts with Smith bold on the drums, summoning your undivided attention. The name is derived from taal (rhythm) and konakol (the art of reciting drum beats in Karnatik music, which Smith practices). He urges the audience to “repeat after me—ta ka dhi mi, ta ka dhi mi …” transforming the audience into an a cappella orchestra echoed by the various drums of Hussain and Smith.
By way of introduction to “Karvan,” Hussain says, “… these (fabulous) players will join me to show you what young India is all about.”
“Karvan” features Chaurasia, Rajagopalan, Kumar, and, of course, Hussain. The scene that is brought to life through their music is that of dawn: birds aflutter, dew-moistened breezes, women and their pots undulating along similarly undulating waters. Hussain’s solo is like thunder and a misting spray of raindrops at the same time. He invites each artist to challenge him while setting up a challenging premise himself.
The DVD is a must-have for those who want to witness and relive the creation of limitless moments and innovative music.
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz, and other genres.