Mickey Hart's Planet Drum | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mickey Hart's Planet Drum 

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MICKEY HART'S PLANET DRUM

In the 50s Duke Ellington suggested that "A Drum Is a Woman"; in the 90s globalthink has superseded intimacy, and Mickey Hart can sum up his philosophy of rhythm with Planet Drum. That's what Hart, the longtime Grateful Dead drummer, called his 1991 coffee-table book about the world's rhythm traditions--and, shortly after, what he named his new band, which would bring the topic to life. The original lineup rivaled the UN Security Council in ethnic diversity, featuring well-known artists from Asia, Africa, and both Americas, and Planet Drum's 1992 Chicago appearance exploited genres from all four continents on a stage so packed with instruments it looked like a world-music rummage sale. But even though the group's number has expanded on its 1998 release, Supralingua (Rykodisc), its membership has narrowed: almost all the musicians hail from the Caribbean and the U.S. (including the best known of the group, the stupefyingly inventive Puerto Rican conga player Giovanni Hidalgo). Hart has made a bigger change, though, by devising a MIDI instrument called RAMU, or Random Access Musical Universe, which allows him to command acoustic and electronic percussion as well as samples. RAMU helps transform the group from a drum clinic into an exotic dance band--but despite layers of heavy production, electronic processing, prominent vocals, and both keyboards and electric bass, the foreign accents remain just sharp enough to come through. Supralingua resists homogenizing the many cultural influences it digests, at its best approaching the mysterious lingua franca that distinguished Weather Report's albums of the late 70s. Hart himself leads more with his vision than his polyrhythms--though he did make exceptional use of the giant gong that dominated the stage on his last tour. Another geomusical explorer, cornetist Olu Dara, opens the show. Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by John Werner.

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