There are many reasons why the Grateful Dead functioned so well as a unit, not the least of which is the fact that, musically speaking, its members never were forced to curtail their personalities or kowtow to the group's dynamics. Instead, their individualism was left intact, where it could roam freely within the larger, nearly boundary-less framework provided by the ensemble. Consequently, the give-and-take among the musicians — as they built, in real-time, a consensus for their ideas — created a tension-and-release mechanism within the Grateful Dead's output that allowed its songs to become living, breathing organisms that could react and adapt to their surroundings.
Like most rock bands, drum solos consistently were a part of the Grateful Dead's repertoire. Over the years, however, the collective's forays evolved away from the furious, crash-and-burn displays in which most outfits seem to revel. Instead, they assumed more subtle, worldly shadings. Although drummer Bill Kreutzmann was the ensemble's metronomic force, capable of propelling its songs across the mountains and over the chasms of the vast terrain that it explored, percussionist Mickey Hart was its secret weapon. In fact, the closer that the Grateful Dead came to the end of its journey, the more the meditative interludes sparked by Hart served as the highlights to the outfit's increasingly hit-and-miss concerts.
Over the years, Hart's insatiable desire to learn as much as he could about the spiritual and cultural aspects of percussion developed into a cottage industry. Spiraling outward from his initial collaboration in 1974 with Zakir Hussain in the Diga Rhythm Band, Hart since has traveled the world, searching for sounds to fuel his personal quest and guide him on his solo projects. Along the way, he also authored four books on the subject (Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Planet Drum, Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music, and Songcatchers: In Search of the World's Music), established a series of archival field recordings, and founded The Endangered Music Fund.
In crafting his latest effort Global Drum Project, Hart reunited several of the principal members that had appeared on Planet Drum, his Grammy-winning endeavor from 1991. In addition to Hussain, both Giovanni Hidalgo and Sikiru Adepoju perform on the new album, and by utilizing a sample of his voice, Babatunde Olatunji also rejoins the collective on the appropriately titled Baba. Global Drum Project is not, however, a simple reprise of Hart's earlier work. Instead, it is an extension of every outing he has made. As such, it is as informed by the linguistic and technological aspects of Supralingua as it is by the earthy, rhythmic sojourns that filled Diga Rhythm Band.
Throughout Global Drum Project, Hart and his entourage create a world-spanning parade of pulsating grooves that incessantly percolate, vibrate, and tug at the heart and soul. The rhythms are mesmerizing and hypnotic, and they flow like water. Consequently, the album's eight tracks effortlessly tumble from one into the next. As the beats ebb and flow, the ensemble plays with the fabric of space and time, expanding and contracting it, dividing it into smaller segments that are filled with interlocking patterns. The approach is inherently mathematical, yet it also is undeniably organic.
Digital technology has advanced considerably in the eight years that have passed since Hart issued Supralingua, and in what could be viewed as a reflection of the world's computerized infrastructure, Global Drum Project's contents are genetic hybrids in which pure, manmade sounds are united with those that have been sampled and enhanced with effects. The vocals, in particular, are processed until they become psychedelic vapor trails that waft across the faces of the songs, such as the strangely seductive Under One Groove and the eerily haunting I Can Tell You More. In effect, Hart, Hussain, Adepoju, and Hidalgo weave a sonic tapestry that depicts the essence of life on Earth in the modern age.
Without actual lyrics, Global Drum Project's overarching message becomes largely subjective. Nevertheless, it's hard not to miss the underlying pleas and prayers that drive the socio-political machinations of tracks like Under One Groove. Similarly, Heartspace, with its violin-like cries as well as its blend of Israeli, Arabic, and Greek cultures seems to speak of the world's war-torn facade, while Baba oscillates between tropical and African textures, thus sounding as much like an offshoot of Hart's past projects as it does the polyrhythmic forays of the Talking Heads. Taken in full, the music on Global Drum Project plunges into the darkness and illuminates it from within. As with Hart's past pursuits, the set inevitably becomes a consciousness-raising excursion that is filled with hope and healing.
By - John Metzger