Even the most determined imagination couldn't quite transform the stage of the Wiltern Theatre into the mountains of Morocco Saturday night.
But the richly textured audio illusions presented by the Master Musicians of Jajouka came close. And there were moments when the rhythms of the 13-member ensemble mesmerized the overflow audience into a joyous, hand-clapping, cheering participation in the music.
The first live Los Angeles appearance by the Jajoukans was especially illuminating for listeners familiar with the piercing, nasal-sounding music on "The Pipes of Pan," a recording produced in the late '60s (recently reissued on CD) by the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones. As valuable as that release was for its ear-opening entry to the Berber music of Morocco, the electronic distortions applied by Jones framed the entry with a distinctly psychedelic coloration.
In concert performance, what emerged instead was a far more timbrally and rhythmically expressive music from a collective in which every member had a specific role. Complex patterns produced by drums ranging from tiny, hand-held items to large, gut-shaking thumpers came together like pieces in a puzzle. Tonal timbres were similarly democratic, with the group's leader, Bachir Attar playing \o7 ghaita\f7 , an oboe-like instrument, over a backdrop of four other droning, melodically responsive \o7 ghaitas\f7 .
The final selection was a brief simulation of the lunar celebration in which the half-goat, half-man Bou Jeloud--the legendary originator of the Jajoukan music--returns. Not particularly fascinating as theater, it nonetheless provided yet another glimpse of the manner in which the music of Jajouka is connected to the culture from which it springs.