All in the Groove

Mickey Hart & Planet Drum - Olu Dara

Park West - Chicago

October 13, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 1998, Volume 5, #11

Written by John Metzger


On October 13, Mickey Hart brought Planet Drum, his massive multi-cultural percussion ensemble, to the intimate confines of Park West in Chicago. The group just barely fit on the tiny stage, forcing the musicians to limbo under microphones and crawl over percussion equipment whenever they desired to move. The venue was horribly oversold, causing the members of the audience to perform several gymnastic feats of their own.

Performing a large chunk of Hart's outstanding recent release Supralingua, the group conjured up a variety of polyrhythmic textures, creating a kaleidoscope of sound. As with the album, vocals were used as percussion instruments and featured phonetic annunciations rather than words and phrases. These were provided primarily by the group's female vocal trio of Gladys "Bobi" Cespédes, Rebeca Mauleón, and Glenys Rogers. The effect was a mesmerizing blast of primal, spiritual power. Endless River was tender and comforting, while Angola, featuring a sample of the Gyoto Monks, was awe-inspiring.

Though each of the pieces was clearly a composition, songs and song titles really didn't matter. The mosaic of sound drawn from the Planet Drum's experience with world music created and conveyed feelings, moods, thoughts, and ideas. Each selection began from a scripted outline, but as the group moved further into a groove, the rhythms would begin to overtake and drive the band. It was truly organic as the members of the ensemble functioned as a team — playing off each others' percussive patterns, channeling life's pulsing energy force, and calling towards an unseen higher power.

Olu Dara opened the show with an amazingly transcendental, 30-minute set that complemented Planet Drum perfectly. The group's music blended African rhythms with New Orleans jazz and blues. Too bad so many folks in the audience just weren't paying attention.

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Copyright © 1998 The Music Box