Zakir Hussain, Dave Holland and friends find common ground at NJPAC

Participants in the “Crosscurrents” concert at NJPAC, Nov. 5, included, from left, Gino Banks, Sanjay Divecha, Louiz Banks, Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain, Dave Holland and Chris Potter.

When we think about the intersection between American popular music and Indian music — or jazz and Indian music — we think, self-centered westerners that we are, about how Indian music influenced Western music.

But as tabla master Zakir Hussain wrote in the program of the “Crosscurrents” concert at Prudential Hall of NJPAC in Newark, Nov. 5 — and re-emphasized during the concert itself — it’s really a two-way street. Starting in the 1930s, the swinging rhythms and the lush harmonies of jazz influenced Indian film soundtrack composers, and this in turn influenced generations of Indian musicians.

The concert brought together a once-in-a-lifetime lineup of world-class musicians from various points on the Indian/jazz spectrum. This was the last show of a brief U.S. tour, and also part of the sixth annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival. 

Hussain — widely considered one of the world’s greatest tabla players, if not the best — has worked with everyone from George Harrison and The Grateful Dead to, more recently, Béla Fleck and Herbie Hancock. Bassist Dave Holland has had a similarly monumental career in jazz and jazz fusion. These two giants were joined by one more American, saxophonist Chris Potter, and four Indians: singer Shankar Mahadevan, guitarist Sanjay Divecha, keyboardist Louiz Banks (described by Hussain as the “father of jazz in India”) and Bank’s son, drummer Gino Banks.

The setlist ranged from traditional Indian and Bollywood favorites to material written by Potter (“Hope”) and Holland (“Finding the Light,” performed as a duet between Holland and Hussain). Mahadevan was particularly impressive on “Breathless,” a song that, as its title implies, saw him singing line after line without stopping to take a breath.

There were plenty of instrumental fireworks in the show, with Hussain in particular given ample opportunity to dazzle. But the remarkable thing was how natural everything sounded, throughout the evening. And I guess that’s because, in spite of the obvious musical difference in these two traditions, they are both rooted in improvisation.

These musicians have spent a lifetime listening, and adjusting, and finding a way to come up with something magical together. They were all on new territory on this tour. And yet, all at home.

Here is the schedule for remaining festival events; all are at NJPAC. For information, visit njpac.org/moodyjazz.

NOV. 10

7:30 p.m.: Christian McBride and Dianne Reeves: One on One at Victoria Theater.
8 p.m.: John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring at Prudential Hall.

NOV. 11

1:30 p.m.: Camille Thurman & The Darrell Green Trio at Victoria Theater.
8 p.m.: Grupo Niche with Willy Chirino at Prudential Hall.

NOV. 12

11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Dorthaan’s Place: Kevin Mahogany at NICO Kitchen & Bar.
3 p.m.: Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition: The Sassy Awards at Victoria Theater. Featuring Tiffany Austin, Christine Fawson, Fabio Giacalone, Quiana Lynell and Tatiana “LadyMay” Mayfield, with a special appearance by Jazzmeia Horn.
7 p.m.: “Ella & Dizzy: The Centennial Celebration” at Prudential Hall. With Gregory Porter, Lizz Wright, Regina Carter, Valerie Simpson, Randy Brecker, Sean Jones, the Christian McBride Big Band.

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