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Review: A spectacular 'Masters of the Wind' plus drumming

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you have ever heard bass drum, cymbals and triangle played in an orchestra piece (say, Rossini's "William Tell" Overture), you have heard an example of non-Western music (Turkish) being absorbed into a Western style.

In the 20th Century, that sort of musical exploration became commonplace, from Debussy to George Crumb, from Don Ellis to the Beatles.

"Masters of the Wind," a concert blending Indian classical music and Western jazz at Charleston's India Center Sunday night took that exploration much further. The saxophonist George Brooks joined bamboo flute player Ronu Majumdar and tabla player Ramdas Palsule for a two-hour program that suggested the absorption could move in the other direction as well, Western music being leavened into Indian classical music.

The first piece, "Alaap Rag Charukeshi," began with Majumdar and Brooks trading solos over the drone of a tampura (here played as an electronic sample). Each soloist began on sustained notes but gradually expanded the sweep of the melody to include tones higher and lower in the scale.

The second piece, "Rag Yaman Kalyan," introduced Pasule's tabla in its web of seven-beat and sixteen-beat talas (the Indian rhythmic cycles). Majumdar played a big flute with a dark, reedy low range while Brooks drew sweet tone from his saxophone.

As the piece gained rhythmic energy, Majumdar switched to a smaller flute and explored some impressive high-range tones with fleet elan. Brooks responded with ideas that hinted at jazz -- flinty and muscular. The piece ended with all three trading flourishes, Palsule striking his drums with flurries of notes that bent to the pitches of the winds while Majumdar and Brooks etched out the drums percussive attacks.

The second half included compositions by Brooks and Majumdar. Brooks' "McCoy," named for the great jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, opened with the winds in a heterophonic dash and climaxed with a spectacular tabla solo by Palsule.

Majumdar's "Swan" began with a lyrical solo on the smallest flute before Brooks and Palsule joined. Palsule played a strikingly conversational solo -- who knew two drums could be so melodic? -- in a twelve-beat cycle before the winds closed the piece.

Larry Coryell's "Akashic, All the Knowledge of the Universe," had some very Western-sounding harmonic lines between Majumdar and Brooks that gave the music an almost Impressionistic haziness.

"Back to the Roots" closed the concert with the winds trading solos in successively shorter spans of time before bursting out in rhythmically daunting choruses. Palsule's drumming made the music crackle with excitement.


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