Sunday, February 28, 2016

Silk Road Ensemble brings its lively blend of musical influences to the Palladium

The Silk Road Ensemble was founded by Yo-Yo Ma.
With its changing personnel and diverse repertoire, the Silk Road Ensemble is like a world traveler that remains confidently itself in any number of guises. One of them showed up at the Palladium in Carmel Saturday night to share its broad vision of world music with a large audience.

The program began with a spatially representative performance of this musical hands-across-the-sea concept: Coming down each side aisle toward the stage where their colleagues were assembled, together Cristina Pato played her gaita (Galician bagpipes) and Kojiro Umezaki his shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) in a piece with the symbolic Esperanto title of "Vojo" (meaning "way" or "road").

The intertwining of these two distinctive voices set a pattern for the concert. The pattern had more to do with honoring various origins of the music. Silk Road Ensemble does not seek to puree all its influences into something indistinguishable, but to allow world traditions to meet on common ground.

One of the most all-embracing pieces was "The Latina 6/8 Suite," a commissioned work based on an idea from Pato, who introduced it from the stage Saturday. The piece uses different dance idioms with a 6/8 meter in common. The performance swept toward an exuberant fandango conclusion, having provided the occasion for a plaintive viola solo by Nicholas Cords and a sprightly duet for gaita and double bass.

Pato's hearty sense of building excitement into her solos, her brightly flowering melodies and acute rhythmic knack added up to a reliable source of pleasure in Silk Road's presentation. Just as vividly engaged and notable for his stamina and clarity of tone was clarinetist  Kinan Azmeh. As a composer he was represented by "Ibn-Arabi Postlude," in honor of a Sufi Muslim poet, and "Syrian Improvisation," co-written with bassist Jeffrey Beecher.

He was also responsible for the group's encore, "Wedding," which traced the snowballing revelry he said was characteristic of weddings in his homeland, Syria. "They are loud and long," Azmeh said about those celebrations. Musically, the 10-member ensemble captured those qualities in the rapturously received encore.

To open the concert's second half, Umezaki proved to be an animated storyteller, illustrating the interplay between folk traditions in music and narrative. The other bookend for the second half was "Khabiel," from John Zorn's "Book of Angels," arranged by Pato. The piece included a shimmering spectrum of improvisational flights. The percussive emphasis was spicy and consistent.

It made for a flavorful follow-up to  Giovanni Sollima's "Taranta Project" in the concert's first half, which featured a virtuoso display of hand percussion, with the player using his body as the resonating instrument, by one of Silk Road's two percussionists.

That feature was an example of the individuality showcased by Silk Road. But there's no doubt the band focuses more attention on the variety of instrumental texture that it achieves, expertly balanced, from the variety of strings, winds, and percussion that it features. Smart lighting helped highlight the musical focus as the concert proceeded.