Diga Rhythm Band
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2008, Volume 15, #5
Written by John Metzger
Wed May 21, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Although his solo debut Rolling Thunder was designed to fit within the scope of the early í70s music scene, it also made it readily apparent that Mickey Hartís obsession with rhythmic grooves ran deeper than that of the average drummer. Initially inspired by Native American tribal beats and the thumping sound of a hand-turned water pump, Hartís intellectual curiosity grew exponentially in the years that followed Rolling Thunderís release, and his hunger for knowledge about percussion and the art of drumming became almost insatiable. In 1975, with the Grateful Dead on hiatus ó at least from a touring perspective ó Hart teamed with Zakir Hussainís Tal Vadya Rhythm Band, spurring what soon became his career-long quest to study and link various cultures around the globe through the spiritual heartbeats of their songs.
Hart and Hussain immediately changed the name of their outfit to the Diga Rhythm Band, and the collectiveís lone recording ó the groundbreaking Diga, which was issued the following summer ó effectively introduced percussion-driven, globally minded grooves to an entirely new audience. It also was far ahead of its time. After all, it took another 15 years for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences to recognize this niche market, when it named Mickey Hartís Planet Drum its first album of the year in the category of world music.
Without a doubt, Planet Drum was the realization of Hart and Hussainís unified vision, and not surprisingly, Diga is, in hindsight, a very uneven affair. In making the endeavor, Hart never quite shed his rock ínĎ roll roots, and his contributions on a standard trap kit sometimes overpowered the circular flow of the ensembleís hypnotic propulsion. Its tracks, too, didnít quite fit together to form a cohesive whole. Instead, they played like standalone pieces or incomplete song snippets. Although Diga hardly could be considered tentative, the album most certainly was embryonic, though Hart and Hussain did, on occasion, tuck moments of true inspiration inside their academic pursuits.
Just as Digaís song titles imply ó Sweet Sixteen and Magnificent Seven, among them ó the idea was to fold rhythmic schemes and cultural ideas together. Yet, often the feeling that is evoked is less transcendent and more controlled and mathematical than Hart and Hussain likely intended. Vibraphonist Ray Spiegel helped to guide the melodies along while adding a jazzy flair to the proceedings, and at times ó such as during the conclusion to Magnificent Seven or the Arabic-shadings of Razooli ó itís clear that Hart was expanding upon some of the same concepts that had percolated through the Grateful Deadís Blues for Allah. Guitarist Jerry Garcia added ambient textures to the latter track, and with his slithering, searching, serpentine leads, he significantly elevated Happiness Is Drumming ó a groove that eventually evolved into Fire on the Mountain.
If viewed from the perspective that it was the beginning rather than the end of a journey, itís much easier to see Digaís charms. Still, Hussain and Hart have since moved so far beyond what they demonstrated on the endeavor that itís hardly an essential component of either of their otherwise stellar cannons.
Of Further Interest...
Diga is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box