The 21C Music Festival: Giving Wings to the Better Angels of Our Nature

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Left to right: Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci, Zakir Hussain, Brian Blade. Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall; Lisa Salulensky
Left to right: Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci, Zakir Hussain, Brian Blade. Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall; Lisa Salulensky

John Patitucci’s work came shortly after a magnificent jam session that opened the evening’s proceedings from Zakir Hussain’s monumental work Peshkar. The music of this jam session has no title; musical collisions such as this one are rarely titled although it is highly disciplined yet loose enough for it to ebb and flow as its highly liquid form courses along a relentless path often engaging in dramatic melodic, harmonic and rhythmic entrances and exits. The music on this day began with a declarative chord followed by a tantalising right-hand figure derived from it, played by pianist Danilo Pérez. This was quickly picked up by the rest of the musical cast and interpreted by bassist John Patitucci, drummer and percussion colourist extraordinaire Brian Blade and the great tabla maestro Zakir Hussain – each according to his own whimsy – yet clearly following what Mr Pérez had so elegantly stated with masterful brevity.

You knew that the music was going to be full of wondrous – and diabolical – twists and turns. Although the conversation was a five-way one, the most dramatic moments came when bassist, drummer and tabla-player took turns acting as sort of musical agents provocateurs leading each other and the pianist down mysterious paths and harmonic and rhythmic alleys daring the others to follow with a view to leading everyone out of what surely felt like the dead-end in a musical labyrinth.

Left to right: John Patitucci, Zakir Hussain, Danilo Pérez, Brian Blade. Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall; Lisa Salulensky
Left to right: John Patitucci, Zakir Hussain, Danilo Pérez, Brian Blade. Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall; Lisa Salulensky

Here too the most fascinating ones were those that came when Mr Hussain made as if to lead Mr Blade astray. But Jazz teaches those who would learn to prepare for any eventuality by listening attentively to every musician on stage as if they were the only ones playing. Still, a lesser drummer would have been flummoxed; but not Mr Blade, who is a master not only of time but dramatic change. It became clear early and frequently as well for everything that Mr Hussain threw at him – and there was much that he did, in the form of complex polyrhythms arising out of diabolically difficult talas, made more spectacular with even more complex and ornamented lightning-fast rhythmic figures that no one else by Zakir Hussain could make.

Every rhythmic zinger that was sent Mr Blade’s way was returned to the tabla maestro with the proverbially compound interest. But remarkably, fire was not necessarily fought with fire. Often Mr Blade sent back a rhythmic call with a delicately formed response. And after a percussion discussion that sometimes caught fire, the percussionists drew in Mr Patitucci and Mr Pérez turning the evolving music into something quite extraordinary until – having had their respective fills, the musicians brought the music “home”. The result was a complete triumph of music, with the quiet intimacy of a small group often exploding into a long work, delightfully-communicated in an utterly focused and poetic manner.

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