Zakir Hussain at Lisner Auditorium
Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 02:48PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • April 26, 2008

The tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain has been pushing the limits of his instrument for most of the last 57 years, since he started playing with his father, the legendary Ustad Allarakha, as a child. Steeped in the 2,000-year-old tradition of Indian classical music, Hussain has performed with masters like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. But he has also brought Indian percussion into the emerging genre of world music, working with such distinctly non-Indian artists as John McLaughlin (with whom he founded Shakti), George Harrison, Tito Puente and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

                                                                                    Susana Millman
Hussain brought that same spirit of adventure to Lisner Auditorium on Thursday for an evening of music that spanned ancient ragas and modern approaches. And throughout, it was almost intoxicating in its intensity. His virtuosity is barely to be believed: Spinning out long, complex improvisations, Hussain played with almost infinite detail, his hands moving like precisely controlled explosions across the drums. And the range of sounds he conjured was nearly symphonic, from squabbling couples to the rich, deep bellow of a conch shell. But it wasn't a mere display of technique: Behind every note was an almost ecstatic sense of involvement.

While Hussain's playing dominated the evening, he was joined by nearly a dozen other musicians, including his two brothers, who brought some fine and unusual playing of their own. Dilshad Khan was deeply powerful on the bowed, short-necked lute called the sarangi, while the young sitarist Niladri Kumar, who's been making a name in fusion music, contributed imaginative solos on the electric sitar he calls the "zitar."

The Meitei Pung Cholom Performing Troupe, a trio of dancing drummers from Manipur, jumped around athletically in colorful costumes; it was enjoyable enough but felt a bit like something cooked up for tourists at the Imphal Hilton. Some of the most intriguing playing of the evening came from the Uzbekistan drummer Abbos Kosimov, who carved out rich, kaleidoscopic music using only the traditional tambourine-like drum called the doyra.

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