How it’s New York: Carnegie Hall!
How it’s Irish: John Joe Kelly was on stage with his bodhran
“Welcome to this temple of music” were the first words spoken on stage, after an opening set, at Carnegie Hall by Zakir Hussain at his Pulse of the World: Celtic Connections performance, Saturday March 28, 2015. Those words aptly set the tone for the next solid two hours of music played in celebration of the musical chops represented on stage.
In deference to the coy young musician who happened to be sitting by my side during the performance, I shall write this review without using the words “fusion,” “journey’,”or “quest.” That established, Hussain introduced the concert by speaking of how where he was from in India, the temple was the focal center point of every village, and from there, music graced the festivals, parades, traditions, ceremonies and daily life. Hussain spoke of how he remembered hearing, as a child, a different sound from a group of musicians from an area that had been settled, decades earlier, by soldiers from the colonizing British Empire.
After their military duties being done for the day, some of the visiting soldiers must have pulled out instruments and played, either on their own with their melodies and rhythms being overheard by the locals, or with some local musicians joining in… and way back then, pre-tv, internet, globalization… tunes were shared and probably friendships formed, and the seeds of this concert were planted.
A classical tabla virtuoso, Zakir Hussain has long been drawn to meet and play with musicians of other traditions. In 2011, tabla master Hussain was invited to bring four other Indian musicians to Scotland, funded by an arts council grant, to join with musicians of Celtic traditions.
‘After a few days of rehearsing, sharing ideas, and discovering common ground in their respective genres, they kicked off Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival with an opening concert that was deemed by many to be one of the most successful in recent years.’ *(quoted from program)
Here on tour in North America for the first time, nine musicians shared this esteemed stage in a most humble manner. Fiddle, flute, pipes, whistle, guitar and bodhran, playing melodies and rhythms and styles from Scotland, Ireland, England, and Brittany joined with the tabla, bamboo flute and Carnatic violin playing melodies and rhythms and styles from India… and it was captivating and delightful. The musicians were:
Zakir Hussain, Tabla
Rakesh Chaurasia, Bamboo Flute
Fraser Fifield, Flute and Pipes
Jean-Michel Veillon, Flute
Ganesh Rajagopalan, Violin
Charlie McKerron, Fiddle (Capercaillie)
Patsy Reid, Fiddle (Breabach)
Tony Byrne, Guitar (Lunasa, Matt Molloy)
John Joe Kelly, Bodhran
The tabla took turns engaging in beautiful dialogues with each of the instruments, back and forth, “exploring common threads with sounds rarely heard together,” with tease-endings to which the audience was only too happy to submit. The intricate rhythms of the tabla were thoroughly appreciated by the audience, especially by some of the many musicians in house who kept an accurate count of the exotic beats and time signatures.
Hussain introduced John Joe Kelly as his rhythm-brother, and rightfully so as the hall was graced with a classic John Joe bodhran solo.
The celebration of music continued after the concert as many musicians, audience members and performers alike, joined in the late night Saturday session already underway at The Harp Raw Bar and Grill on 3rd Ave.
And from the ‘temple of music,” the spirit carried on full circle back to the village…to the East Village, that is, to the sanctuary of music found at the 11th St. Bar session late on Sunday nights. Recently dubbed the best acoustic session in NYC, and led by Tony DeMarco on fiddle and Eamon O’Leary on voice and bouzouki, the session is regularly graced by some of the most amazing musicians living in or passing through NYC.
Last Sunday, the very night after the Carnegie Hall Pulse of the World concert, a man who lives right around the corner brought his tabla drums in to the 11th St. session… and sounds exoctic and enchanting enough to be featured at Carnegie Hall the night before pulsed out into the East Village night as musicians gathered as friends and played as the artists they always are.