Drumming up a new vision

October 04, 2007|By Aaron Chester | Aaron Chester,Sun reporter

Mickey Hart considers himself to be in the transportation business. The purpose of his music was not to entertain during his 25 years or so as the Grateful Dead's drummer, nor is it now, he says. Instead, the percussionist said his album, Global Drum Project, is meant to transcend consciousness and transport people to positive planes of existence.

"It's about moving into another state of mind," Hart said. "You think differently. It's the neurology of rhythm, and we're master `trancers.'"

This trance percussion album and accompanying tour reunites Hart with tabla player and co-producer Zakir Hussain of India, talking drummer Sikiru Adepoju of Nigeria, and congas player Giovanni Hidalgo of Puerto Rico, all of whom were part of his 1991 album Planet Drum, which won the first World Music Grammy Award and held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard World Music Chart for 26 weeks.

"The overriding vision for this record was to allow for digital processing on the archaic percussion instruments," Hart said. "I envision this as a dance between the digital domain and the archaic world. It was time to bring the guys together again for something this worthy."

The Global Drum Project Tour comes to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Tuesday, and though the group will be playing songs from the CD, the performance will reflect the same spontaneous creativity that inspired the album. Hart compared them to a jam band, as songs will be recognizable, but never intentionally re-created.

Unlike the acoustic Planet Drum, Global Drum Project combines traditional percussion instruments with sophisticated digital processors from which the artists can overdub and create sounds in real time. A single tabla, for example, can be morphed to sound like 20, according to Hart.

"The art is to be able to do it live," Hart said. "This is why I waited 15 years. I've had this vision, but it was not until recently that I could have done it intelligently."

A practically effortless transition from the Grateful Dead into solo percussion music began for Hart in 1975 with the Diga Rhythm Band, which he called the prototype for his current project. Now, Hart is performing with an international percussion dream team whose friendships are crucial to the chemistry.

Hussain and Hart's relationship dates to 1971, as Hart was taught percussion by his father. A master in his own right, Hart said, Hussain co-produced Planet Drum and Global Drum Project and has his own albums.

He spoke just as highly of the rest of his group. "We are all the best at what we do," Hart said. "It's an honor playing with them."

With song titles like "Kaluli Groove," "Funky Zena" and "Dances With Wood," the multicultural, freely rhythmic music may leave many wondering about underlying meanings. The first track, "Baba," samples vocals from the late percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, who was part of Planet Drum and who died in 2003. Outside of this memorial, these are songs whose titles were spawned solely from spiritual discovery.

"When we play, we are having a collective experience," Hart said. "The group mind is a powerful thing. It's stronger than the parts." The experience, he said, is a Zen-like awakening.

These discoveries, or songs, are not found without a great deal of failures, according to the drummer. No songs are pre-orchestrated, and reaching these alternate states of being require all four artists coming together and reaching a groove. As heard in the album, such unison virtually eliminates any kind of contrast between instruments.

Global Drum Project is another experiment in the constant reinvention of percussion for Hart and company. Such an outlook prevents the veterans from ever completing the learning process. "This is a spiritual adventure for us," Hart said. "We don't know where it's going, we just go together."

aaron.chester@baltsun.com

The Global Drum Project comes to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis, at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $53-$58. Call 410-280-5640 or go to marylandhall.org.

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