Percussion polymath Zakir Hussain, the acknowledged living master of the tabla, seems to carry the quintessence of cool. His laid-back personal style makes him a favorite with aficionados who range from austere Indian classicists to jazzbos and jam-band groupies. The constituencies converged Thursday on the Berklee Performance Center to take in Hussain's Masters of Indian Percussion tour.
The emotional heart of the performance was its most orthodox segment. It paired Hussain with Ustad Sultan Khan, another Indian great, on the sarangi -- the wide-necked string instrument that, played with a bow, emits a textured voice like sound. Playing the evening raga Charukeshi, they established a teental, or sixteen-beat cycle; its straightforward 4-by-4 geometry gave Hussain, seconded on tabla by his brother Fazal Qureishi, ample space for increasing complexity.
The show's second half worked a rather different vein. While Hussain worked the tablas, a young sitar player, Niladri Kumar, moved from a classical development into guitar-like licks and technical fireworks. Meanwhile, another Hussain brother, Taufiq Qureishi, manned a Western drum kit, doing little more than keeping time on the hi-hat; later, he generated a beat from hard breaths, and then by slapping his cheek.
The evening's greatest non sequiturs came at the end of each half, when a trio of folk dancers from the far northeastern state of Manipur delivered a brief sequence of hyper-kinetic drumming and acrobatics. The dancers, whose tradition has little to do with the night's North Indian orientation, deserved a separate show, rather than serving, as they did here, as an exotic footnote.