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World Music Review

Pasadena Goes Global With a Mellow Concert

November 18, 1998|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The first Pasadena World Music Festival was an event whose time was long overdue. Los Angeles sees plenty of jazz festivals, blues festivals and Latin jazz festivals, and world music--in its multiplicity of aspects--can be heard with regularity.

But the combining of the various styles in a compatible program at a venue that allows for easy, relaxed involvement with the music has been far too rare. So Sunday's concert, which started at 2 p.m. and ran well into the night at the Loft in Pasadena, was a welcome breakthrough on several counts.

It was, first of all, an audience-friendly event. The Loft is a big, barn-like open space that encourages movement. At the rear of the performance area, concession stands offered a variety of food, coffee, posters and T-shirts. In this setting, the music unfolded in a casual, communal atmosphere, ebbing and flowing throughout the day.

Equally important, the programming--despite its diversity--revealed surprising aesthetic linkages between various types of world music. The sounds of Tom Kurai's Japanese Taiko Drum Ensemble, opening the festival, moved easily into the movements of the Asiyo Belema Ethiopian Dance Ensemble. And the groove-oriented music of Beyond Electronic Garage, with its tinges of jazz avant-garde, nonetheless connected with the brisk, North Indian rhythms of sitar player Aloke Das Gupta.

By the time drummer Billy Higgins and tenor saxophonist Harold Land brought their superb quartet on stage, the music had cruised across the globe, perfectly positioning the ensemble's multicultural African American jazz.

Bands led by drummers often run the risk of percussion overkill, but Higgins is an instrumentalist first and a drummer second. Every contribution he made to a set of straight-ahead tunes (including the standard "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and several Land originals) was musically incisive, enhancing the ensemble sound and energizing the band's driving swing.

The Latin jazz of saxophonist Justo Almario and Tolu was no less galvanized, driven by four percussionists and a crisp three-man horn section. Almario's groups are always well-rehearsed and imaginative, and this one was no exception, moving easily between powerful jazz tunes and salsa so irresistible that it converted the front part of the room into a dance floor.

Percussionist Adam Rudolph and Moroccan gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun closed the festival, a program that has established an attractive baseline for world music events. Fortunately, the producers, David Cherry and Ikuma Hayashi, have promised that the first Pasadena World Music Festival will not be the last.

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