By: Shain Shapiro
When Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain unveiled Planet Drum in 1992 the Grateful Dead, however beaten and tattered, was still touring and Hussain was doing his thing in a version of the brilliant Shakti ensemble. The engrossing, genius collection encapsulated a whole slew of African and Middle Eastern influences under a densely percussive umbrella, ultimately landing at the top of the Billboard charts and surprising almost everybody. Now, 15 years later, the two musicians are back with another set, this time entitled Global Drum Project. While the initial set defined a genre of sorts - a blend of electronics and tribal sounds new to the mainstream - this new set is simply part of a scene, one already coagulated with duplicates and makeshift knockoffs that direct the listener back to the roots, or, in other words, the original Planet Drum.
Mixing indigenous sounds with electronic blips and bleeps has been done to death. Everything has been experimented with so much so that the word "lounge" has come to mean anything culled from a non-white musical source, twiddling its melodic thumbs alongside a backbeat. For example, Bill Laswell and Karsh Kale incorporate tablas and Indian etchings, Gotan Project twist and turn through tango and Konono No. 1 mix Congolese thumb piano with artesian flair. Not to mention Claude Challe and his everything-in-the-pot Buddha Bar series.
Global Drum Project is gorgeously produced. Each finely tuned tap shines through, creating an uplifting mood that flirtatiously dances with East African melodies and found sounds. Both Hart and Hussain perform with ardor, with Hussain's tabla wizardry evident throughout Hart’s eccentric, tap-dancing electronic percussion exercises. This collection focuses more on mood than song, as the rhythms ebb and flow into each other, creating an album that flows more like one long track.
Yet, the whole affair is restrained, more lounge-like and overly percussive and electronic than rhythmic. Hart and Hussain fail to define a new paradigm to explore this global trough of sounds, ultimately falling into the same pot that holds the rest of the genre. The musicianship is spot on, spectacular at times, but the duo seems more concerned with the mood than letting the musicians showcase their skills.
I expected to be blown away with this CD given the performers involved (Nigerian legend Babatunde Olatunji, Nigerian talking drum player Sikiru Adepoju, Puerto Rican conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and others). Instead, a relaxed sound dominates, one more suitable for a dinner party than a freak out. Hart and Hussain are certainly capable musicians – every single note along with the mixing and production on Global Drum Party testify to that – but this is not the party I was expecting.
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