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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

`Planet' drums up our deepest primal origins

September 23, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Mickey Hart invoked the percussion gods at the Avalon in Hollywood on Thursday night, and they turned out in formidable grandeur. The combination of Hart, tabla artist Zakir Hussain, Nigerian talking-drum virtuoso Sikiru Adepoju and Latin percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo is extraordinary by any definition. Add the great Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, and the potential for percussion heaven seemed more than likely.

"The Planet Drum 2006 Tour" celebrates the 15th anniversary of the release of the album "Planet Drum," which won the first world music Grammy. Hart, Hussain, Adepoju, Hidalgo and Moreira were all on that groundbreaking release; the only participant missing for the concert was the late Babatunde Olatunji.

Unlike the bursting bubble of so many all-star get-togethers, this was one musical promise that actually took flight. Although the nearly two-hour set had its uneven moments, there were far more passages in which the astonishing synchronicity of global drumming filled the room with a transcendent sense of Jung's collective unconscious.

Hart, the passionately throbbing heart of the action, alternated between ambidextrous drum solos, brotherly interaction with his associates and subtle guidance of the music's improvisatory flow. There were solo showcase spots for each player: Hussain adding intense vocalizing to his brilliant tabla work; Adepoju demonstrating the reason his primary instrument is called the "talking drum"; Hidalgo moving smoothly from congas to timbales, with stops in between at numerous items of hand percussion. The group's sixth member, multi-instrumentalist Jonah Sharp, seasoned with dashes of electronica.

Moreira, as often happens, was like a stunningly transformative force of nature. Using only his voice (occasionally enhanced by electronic looping) and the Brazilian tambourine known as the pandeiro, he repeatedly raised the level of musical fervor. And his familiar switch into a turbulent samba rhythm was dramatically energized by the multilayered timbres of the other instruments.

Anthropologists have suggested that the drum was humanity's first intentional musical instrument. In gatherings such as "Planet Drum," as well as his work with the Rhythm Devils, Hart is persuasively affirming the drum's primal potency in the high-tech 21st century.

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