When experimental US composer, Conlon Nancarrow wrote his studies for the self-playing player piano or pianola, he deliberately composed beyond the capabilities of human performance. With electronic or digital drums or digital percussion, technology and programming created new possibilities and turned many into slaves to the algorithm. With what tabla maestro Zakir Hussain achieves, all it takes is two hands, tuned percussion and a lifetime of ferocious musical wit and invention. He brings new dimensions of eloquence and muscularity to talking in rhythm.
When compiling this selection of soliloquies, colloquies and magic, Ken Hunt chose performances revealing varying sides of Zakir Hussain's music, personality and virtuosity. They show this foremost master of Indian rhythmicality revitalising and renewing the art of rhythm accompaniment in the roles of soloist, duettist and ensemble player. Bookending the anthology, Tabla Taal - Char Taal ki Sawari and Punjabi Dhamar - Teental (Drut) feature bols rhythm syllable recitation, in which reciting the composition is followed by duplicating its notes on tabla.
Deliberately Zakir Hussain is shown in good, glad and grand company. On raga Kirwani he is in tandem with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the musician who raised the santoor - a modified Kashmiri folk instrument - to the global concert stage. On raga Gara he accompanies the outstanding sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan. On Tabla Taal - Ek Taal he and his father, Alla Rakha reveal themselves as fire-breathing dragons as they inexorably transport listeners to the piece's delicious finale and resolution. By contrast, inverting the usual percussion and melody instrument role, on Punjabi Dhamar - Teental (Drut) the sarangi visionary Ustad Sultan Khan takes the supportive lehara or lehra role to Zakir Hussain's exceptional front-man role. That last performance brings this party back to its roots and the Punjab gharana (school or style) of tabla playing which grounded his father with an exciting Punjabi rhythmical composition.
It is no exaggeration to say Zakir Hussain is most famous and consummate Indo-Pakistani rhythmist chameleon ever. (And ever is a big word.) For him, tabla was yet another language to learn and master. 'When I'm playing tabla and teaching tabla and talking to the students, I'm trying to tell them to think of it as a language. To think of it the same as Hindi or English, Punjabi or Urdu or Farsi. And to try to imagine that, when you're playing, you're not playing rhythms and not just playing patterns. You're composing a sentence. You are writing an essay or forming a paragraph. You're telling a story in that language and speaking in that way. Or singing a song in that story or reciting a poem in that story in that language.'
Listen to this collection like an anthology of stories. He has tales, some tall tales to tell.
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