Though Mickey Hart was an integral part of the Grateful Dead, he always seemed less of a hippie than the rest of the jam-band pioneers in the group. Perhaps his otherworldly Vulcan looks account for the rift, or his collection of wildly printed shirts. But the more plausible reason is Hart’s decades-long flirtation with percussion instruments, traditions and musicians from around the globe.
While the Dead and their fans were logging highway miles in Volkswagen vans, Hart was plumbing the rhythmic depths of the Amazon and Papua New Guinea. While the Dead performed yet another trippy rendition of “Dark Star,” Hart was pioneering world beat and global fusion with percussion masters like the late Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Brazilian jazz artist Airto Moreira.
And now, 35 years since Hart’s first solo album, his passion for percussion seems to only be deepening, as evidenced by the release of Global Drum Project (Shout Factory, 2007). With collaborators Zakir Hussain (tabla virtuoso), Sikiru Adepoju (talking-drum aficionado) and Giovanni Hidalgo (master conguero), Hart has recorded the next chapter to his 1991 Grammy-winning release, Planet Drum.
“From time to time we would stop and review and tell the story so far, manifesting in recordings like Diga, At the Edge and Planet Drum,” Hussain comments in the new album’s liner notes. “But the journey never stopped and this time, a new telling.”
That idea—that these recordings are the travelogue of a musical adventure—is simple enough, but the resulting composition is as complex and multifaceted as the syncopated beats and polyrhythms culled by the album’s players. No hippie drum circle here; instead, Global melds layers of pulsing hand drums with ethereal vocals, moody sitar and the metallic accents of triangle, bells and cymbals. There’s a seamless, dreamy quality to the primal sounds, but Global also dares to reach into the future with sampled vocals and static-y news clips.
“This is a deep drumming groove,” Hart writes on his Web site. “We’re taking the archaic rhythm worlds into outer space.”
At times, like on the spoken-word track “I Can Tell You More” and the apocalyptic “Kaluli Groove,” the experiment edges toward pretension. But the tribal, mystical grooves of “Funky Zena” and “Tars” expertly balance that Grateful Dead-approved bonfire abandon with yoga-studio sensibility and urban edge.
While group drumming is still very much the territory of the tie-dyed, recent years have shown a groundswell of popularity in African drumming and dance classes. Live conga players spark salsa nights, and the world-beat movement is no longer restricted to a single shelf in a New Age music shop. Check out the offerings at this fall’s Lake Eden Arts Festival, and you’ll find African, Latin and Japanese drumming sharing the bill.
Despite being intimately (and unapologetically) linked to the Dead, Hart’s continued percussive studies bring listeners far from the well-rutted routes of jam music to a vibrant new world of rhythm.
who: Global Drum Project featuring Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain
what: Rhythms from around the world
where: The Orange Peel
when: Sunday, Oct. 7, 9 p.m. ($25/door, 225-5851)