‘One World Music’ to play at Unity Center

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 4/17/24


The fluid ensemble lineup of the Richard Russell Group will be bringing its “One World Music” back to Port Townsend through the Unity Spiritual Enrichment Center at 3918 San …

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‘One World Music’ to play at Unity Center



The fluid ensemble lineup of the Richard Russell Group will be bringing its “One World Music” back to Port Townsend through the Unity Spiritual Enrichment Center at 3918 San Juan Ave. from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, May 4. For local guest-musician David Michael, it represents the culmination of close to half a century of musical collaboration.

Michael, a Celtic harpist who’s lived in Port Townsend since 1990, met future sarod player Russell at the Evergreen State College in Olympia more than 50 years ago, but they performed together locally most recently at the Port Townsend Friends (Quaker) Meetinghouse in 2017, alongside Grammy Award-winning woodwind player Nancy Rumbel.

By contrast, Russell and Rumbel performed together locally most recently at the Unity Center in 2023, as part of last year’s lineup of the Richard Russell Group, which this year includes not only Russell and Rumbel, but also Anil Prasad on the tabla and Peter Lawson on the cello, plus Michael as their guest.

The Seattle-based Richard Russell Group was established in 2018 to explore “One World Music,” and Michael considers himself and Russell to have been pioneers in “World Fusion Music” ever since their college years together, as they’ve collaborated in various concerts, recordings and ensembles throughout the decades, which eventually led Russell to introduce Michael and Rumbel to each other.

“For me, this is the World Fusion Music extravaganza of the year in Port Townsend,” Michael said. “I’m so glad that we’re emerging from some really challenging pandemic years, when these kinds of performances weren’t possible.”

Although the group has rehearsed together in Russell’s current Washington state hometown of Everett, their prepared set list is slated to include breaks for freeform improvisation, and Michael refuses to presume how prospective concert-goers should feel upon listening to the group’s music.

“I have too much respect for how anyone might perceive or receive our music, each in their own unique way,” Michael said. “That being said, our music is likely to be largely up-tempo, with rhythms that could inspire some toe-tapping and swaying to the rhythm.”

Michael was effusive in his praise for the potential of “World Music” to achieve “rare combinations of sounds, that nonetheless turn out to be totally compatible, as long as all the musicians are listening to each other,” bridging Eastern and Western traditions and genres of music as initially disparate as Indian raga, European classical and American jazz.

As for Russell, he regards his college years in Washington state as his gateway to Eastern music, since his education took him from Texas and led to him spending a year abroad in Nepal and Tibet, after which he became a disciple of the Indian maestro Ali Akbar Khan, focusing much of his more-than-four decades of study of Indian music on the 25-string sarod.

After 20 years in the Bay Area, Russell returned to Texas, but even cities as artistic as Austin couldn’t compare to the West Coast, in his opinion, so he was drawn back to the Pacific Northwest eight years ago.

“I missed the weather, believe it or not,” Russell told The Leader, laughing. “There’s a broad variety of music that’s nurtured by the culture of this region, from blues and rock to folk and Americana, but there’s also enough visitors from other countries that you’ve got cross-cultural influences from outside of America as well.”

Russell sees “World Music” as a means of connecting people from wildly divergent backgrounds, across the globe, through a musical language that’s “expressive,” “energetic” and “powerful,” but never, ever “generic.”

Doors open at 3:30 p.m. for the May 4 concert, for which you can either prepay by contacting Beverly Michaelson at the Unity Center.