By Andrew Gilbert / Special to The Seattle Times
As the scion of India’s greatest percussion dynasty, tabla master Zakir Hussain could assemble a stellar cast for his Masters of Percussion production drawing only from a tight-knit roster of family and friends.
But he’s made a point of scouring the subcontinent for obscure traditions, turning the biennial tour he brings to Moore Theatre on Thursday into a showcase for India’s multiethnic rhythmic riches.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in India traveling down little dirt roads to find drummers,” says Hussain, 63, from his home in Northern California’s bucolic Marin County, where he’s spent a good portion of each year since arriving in the early 1970s to teach at Ali Akbar Khan’s school in nearby San Rafael. “It’s been a very satisfying experience to go find these guys and then spend months on the road with them, learning their rhythmic thinking and how their music works.”
The son of India’s greatest 20th-century tabla maestro Alla Rakha, Hussain is a musical polymath who has composed scores for dozens of films in Bollywood and Hollywood, and collaborated widely with an international array of artists, from Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer to Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd.
For the latest edition of Masters of Percussion, Hussain has recruited some longtime comrades, including Remember Shakti’s V. Selvaganesh on the South Indian frame drum, or kanjira, and clay pot, or ghatam. Among the newer members are Deepak Bhatt on the Punjabi double-sided dhol (familiar to many through dance-club iterations of bhangra), and Vijay Chavan, who represents the folk traditions of Maharashtra on the smaller double-sided dholki.
The most surprising new addition to the tour is trap drum star Steve Smith, a Marin County neighbor of Hussain’s who gained fame with Journey during the band’s hit-making heyday. He started his career in jazz and since leaving Journey in 1985 has concentrated on jazz and jazz/rock fusion contexts.
He and Hussain first played together as members of Yo Miles!, guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s talent-laden project exploring the early fusion experiments of Miles Davis, and he’s spent the past decade immersing himself in South Indian classical music (while also studying North Indian rhythms with Hussain).
“To get the call for this was a great thrill,” says Smith, the first non-Indian drummer to participate in Masters of Percussion. “The most exciting part is that unlike some of the gigs which are one-offs, now we’re all traveling together in a sleeper bus and I think a lot is going to develop during that time. I’m definitely going to be in school those four weeks.”
8 p.m., Thursday, Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $35-$42.50 (877-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
Andrew Gilbert: firstname.lastname@example.org