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Border Crossings

Group featuring tabla player blends Eastern tones and rhythms with jazz.


West has been meeting East on a regular basis, musically speaking, for many years. As with most experiments, intentions are often better than the results, but the desire for musicians to work together across borders remains strong.

Tabla sensation Sandip Burman knows something about that urge to cross cultures and find common tones and rhythms. Though a young musician who first came to the United States from India only seven years ago, the 30-year-old has been spreading tentacles in many directions. You can find him on the new, guest-studded album by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, "Outbound," on last year's "Global Fusion" from violinist L. Subramanium and even on Danny Elfman's wild score for the movie "Mars Attacks."

And you can find him Thursday night at the Skirball Cultural Center in the group Facing East. Started by composer John Wubbenhorst, who plays the bansuri (bamboo alto flute), the group features notable names from the jazz world: reed player Paul McCandless and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Not coincidentally, both jazz players have been intrigued by mixing jazz with influences from other corners of the globe. For his part, Burman naturally opens his ears to new sounds and styles.

On the phone from his home in Chicago last week, he said he would rather be flexible than rigid.

"If you are open-minded, you can learn so many things," he said. "It's like a food. Indian food is different, and then Chinese food is different than that. It's not a matter of what is good and what is bad. You might not like Indian food the first time you eat it, but when you acquire the taste, you like it."

In his native country, Burman studied Indian classical music with Shri Sudhir Roy and Shymal Bose and has performed with a number of well-known classical Indian musicians, including sitarist Ravi Shankar, vocalist Lakshmi Shankar and flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Burman's formidable skills, his open approach to music from around the world and his amiable, unabashed charm may work in his favor. He is not shy about approaching celebrated musicians, as he did when he got DeJohnette's home phone number, called him up and said, "We should play together." They did, and continue to.

At a concert featuring Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Burman charmed his way backstage and similarly offered his musical services. An ongoing musical friendship was forged. He also has upcoming performances with high-profile jazz players, such as guitarist John Scofield and trumpeter Randy Brecker.

"I was lucky that people like this were helpful to me, taking me everywhere, giving me the opportunity to play," he said.

He was a natural addition to the band Facing East, as Wubbenhorst discovered. Wubbenhorst has recorded with flutist Chaurasia and recorded a peculiar culture-mash project "Blue Incantation" in 1995 featuring Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.

In Facing East, which released a CD in 1998 with different personnel, Wubbenhorst has written a body of music tailored for these players' gifts. At the Skirball, Burman will engage in a duet with DeJohnette over a complex meter that works out to 17 beats.

The last several years have seen Burman become increasingly itinerant, teaching in Mexico City, Wichita State University, and "wherever, whatever."

"If you have a free couch in your house, just pick me up and tell me what tune to play and give me blessings, and drop me off with a sandwich."



Sandip Burman and Facing East, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Free admission. (310) 440-4500.

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