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Gig Review: Zakir Hussain Presents Abhisaran

Prithvi Theatre’s 33rd Memorial Concert saw Louiz Banks, Sanjay Divecha, Niladri Kumar and more join the tabla maestro for an indo-jazz fusion treat

Sunil Sampat Mar 02, 2017
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Tabla virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain performs at Abhisaran.

We music lovers are truly well blessed and fortunate to be living in these times when Ustad Zakir Hussain is playing his magic. One never gets enough of his music. For Hussain, the music is an outpouring of love; add his total mastery and brilliance at his craft, and you have sounds begging for superlatives. One has felt that among jazz musicians, Miles Davis was a superstar, as popular and as sought after as a top ranked sportsman. Perhaps he was the only superstar in jazz. It would not be out of place to say that Hussain is a superstar on the Indian firmament. He is without equal and he never plays to less than full houses!

There was never any doubt about his wizardry as a tabla player. His versatility and uncanny knack of delivering goosebumps every time is quite mind boggling. We heard him at Abhisaran, Prithvi Theater’s 33rd Anniversary event on February 28th, 2017, where he performed with Sanjay Divecha on acoustic guitar, Abhinav Khokar on upright acoustic bass, multi-instrumentalist Louiz Banks on piano and the brilliant Avishai Cohen on trumpet. The group was expanded later to include Niladri Kumar on sitar, Sabir Khan on sarangi and Vinay Kumar on dholak. Each of these musicians is undoubtedly a master in their own right but something truly magical occurred when they all got together for this concert. The place, the setting, the occasion and the audience was just right for the music.

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A jazz drummer has many tools for his job: several types of drums, sticks, mallets, brushes, foot pedals etc. All these help to put together the exact effect in a jazz ensemble. Hussain sat on the stage with his tabla set, one lone drummer’s high hat and a small tambourine-like instrument. With this collection of percussion instruments he was able to create all the sounds of a very classy jazz drummer. Somehow he has internalized the jazz percussion sensibility and it emerges flawlessly and fluently from him.

Banks always sounds terrific on an acoustic piano and so he did at the concert. His playing was understated and tempered for the occasion and for the ensemble–what a maestro!

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The group played a set for over two hours without a break.

New York City–based Cohen was a complete revelation. His smooth, lyrical sound is truly worth travelling a long distance to hear. His playing on John Coltrane’s brilliant, introspective “Naima” was very special. Banks remarked that when he first heard Cohen, he thought Miles Davis was back!  (Our view was slightly different. His tone sounded much more like Kenny Dorham and had the finesse of Art Farmer. Later, Cohen confirmed that these two were his major influences.)

The band played a set for over two hours without a break, with sitarist Niladri Kumar, Khan and Vinay Kumar playing on only some of the compositions. Niladri on “Mist” was very pleasing, Khan’s sarangi sounded perfect in the setting, but the finale, in which a jugalbandhi between Hussain and Vinay Kumar was truly spellbinding. After their long “sawaal – jawaab” session, the trumpet tapered into “Making Music.” This is a chestnut from Hussain’s album of the same name which had also featured acclaimed flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek and English guitarist John McLaughlin. As expected, the crowd was in raptures.

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The entire evening with the performance of “Chembur Funk” from Divecha, “Dove,” “5 Spices,” “Quiescence” and “Nature’s Dance” along with “Naima” and “Mist” had something for every taste. Pensive jazz, twelve bar blues, sitar-centered melody, and a reflective trumpet made for a brilliant set. The playing of Divecha – acoustic jazz guitar at its best- and an all too rare upright acoustic bass from Khokar to glue things together, made for a sensational evening of listening.

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The sign board at Prithvi Theatre promoting the show.

It’s a pity that Prithvi Theatre is not used much more often for music; the acoustics are immaculate, the ambiance of the hall is magnificent and best of all the intimacy between the musicians and the audience because of their proximity is unparalleled. It is a setting where musical magic is waiting to happen. On Tuesday night we experienced almost supernatural magic at Prithvi. But it was just another day, another great concert for the music magician, Ustad Zakir Hussain.

All photos courtesy of Prithvi Theatre

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