Jazz Notes: Tablas Genius Zakir Hussain and Legendary Bassist Dave Holland Propel Crosscurrents To Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, April 30, 2018
When virtuoso tabla master Zakir Hussain served as one of SFJAZZ’s artistic directors in 2015-2016, he told an audience gathered to hear his reflections on the power of artistic expression: “Music is a force, it’s something that is a healing frequency, that relaxes us and rejuvenates us and is a focus of our discipline. It gives us hope to face the world.”
During that time, he put on special engagements, including what is today called Crosscurrents, which premiered in San Francisco in October 2015 and featured an all-star ensemble of Indian and American artists. On the U.S. jazz side, the esteemed NEA bassist Dave Holland and brilliant saxophonist Chris Potter were featured. It proved to be not just a one-night stand, but also a touring project that has sold out houses ever since, both in the States and in India. In the midst of its eight-city North American tour, Crosscurrents arrives in New York for the first time for two nights, May 4 and 5, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. It will be a vibrant evening highlighting the convergent improvisational worlds of jazz and Indian classical music. Of special note are the top-tier Indian musicians including guitarist Sanjay Divecha, pianist Louiz Banks (Holland says he’s known as “the godfather of jazz in India”), drummer Gino Banks and the Bollywood superstar vocalist Shankar Mahadevan (Holland notes that he “has a wide range and is an incredible improviser”).
As Holland told one writer last fall, “As the world gets smaller, we find ourselves celebrating similarities rather than thinking about the differences.” This year, an hour before he joined the team for its April 27 tour launch in Los Angeles, Holland expounded on the cross-pollinating theme: “This was Zakir’s idea and it emphasizes how the roots of jazz intermix with the Indian classical tradition. The group has amazing talent where we share that we are a human family with its great variety of music. We don’t all have to be the same, but we can certainly share.”
This project marks the first time Holland has performed with Hussain in a small group setting, even though they had crossed paths on the road often and had worked together on a Herbie Hancock project. “It’s amazing how Zakir interacts with all of us,” Holland said. “He has incredible instincts and ears. He almost reads your mind in the way he plays. He’s extraordinary.”
The show will feature the seven-piece ensemble percussively propel through a variety of music, including originals, Bollywood tunes, standards and 12-bar blues. At the heart is Hussain’s tablas flair that sets up the dynamic drive—ecstatic, rollicking, percolating, along with an element of meditative trance. He has an array of fans from his days in John McLaughlin’s Shakti band, his collaborations with Charles Lloyd and his interactions with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. “This show will draw in Zakir’s audiences,” said Holland. “In India he is revered, so there will be a big crowd of Indians. When we traveled to India, people recognized him immediately, even in airports. Then of course, the jazz audience knows him, so there will be a mix of people in the house.”
The underlying tide in the Crosscurrents music is a hope. “Music is an artform that is one of the positive forces in the world,” said Hussain. “The rest of the world is too busy selling arms, selling oil, making money, robbing people with scams. But music and art are important. Music heals.”
Holland added, “Countries and borders are a construct. I dream of a day where we all live as a world community. Crosscurrents is how we are celebrating that we are more similar to each other than different.”
Finally, will there be a Crosscurrents recording in the future? “There will be other things to come,” Holland said. “We have been recording our shows, but we haven’t discussed concrete ideas about doing a record yet.”
For more information and to purchase tickets for the upcoming concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center click here.
Cover: Zakir Hussain; photo: Susana Millman.