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Indian Percussion Infuses 'Good Hope' With Complex, Crossfire Beats


This is FRESH AIR. In 2017, Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain, who lives in the U.S., put together a seven-piece band for a concert for the SF Jazz Center in San Francisco. Then Hussain and two members of that band, saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Dave Holland, formed a co-op unit that tours as the Crosscurrents trio. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says they click.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Saxophonist Chris Potter's tune "Good Hope," title track from the new co-op trio album with Dave Holland and Zakir Hussain. Saxophone, bass and drums trios are fairly common in jazz, but swap in Indian percussion for the drum kit and you're on different terrain. The jazz drum set covers a wide frequency range from bass drum to ringing cymbals with their wash of sound. Zakir Hussein's tabla and other hand drums are all about short, distinct beats, points in time. Indian percussion alters the trio's balance, lets in more open space even when drums jump to hyper-speed.


WHITEHEAD: Dave Holland on bass. Percussionist Zakir Hussain was born in Mumbai and trained in Indian classical music. In the 1970s, he played in guitarist John McLaughlin's speedy acoustic band Shakti and later recorded with jazz musicians Pharoah Sanders, Renee Rosnes and Charles Lloyd, among others. With jazzers, Hussein doesn't dumb down his dizzying chains of accents, but he can find something like a backbeat, too. It helps that Chris Potter and Dave Holland also lean in his direction.


WHITEHEAD: Bassist Dave Holland came up in London in the 1960s just as India's additive rhythms and other complex beat sequences were infecting jazz. He's always been at home with off-kilter, looping rhythms played super clean. Holland had some old tunes ready-made for the trio, including "Lucky Seven," which Chris Potter had played back when he was in Holland's band.


WHITEHEAD: Chris Potter on soprano saxophone. On tenor, he gets a big, even sound all over the horn, and he sounds great in this setting. Potter engages with Zakir Hussein's crossfire beats and nods to the South Indian classical saxophone tradition. This is from Zakir Hussein's "Suvarna."


WHITEHEAD: On the album "Good Hope" by Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain and Chris Potter, the music is clear and confident with plenty of fire and no cross-cultural mishaps. The trio sound like they could do this all day.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "Good Hope" by the Crosscurrents trio. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview about Janis Joplin with Holly George-Warren, who's written a new biography of Joplin, or our interview with James Verini, whose new book is about witnessing the battle that drove ISIS out of the Iraqi city Mosul, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Heidi Saman, Mooj Zadie, Seth Kelley and Joel Wolfram. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSCURRENTS' "MAZAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead
Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.