“We’re all friends. We all have smiles. We create this feeling of a loving embrace in the room,” says John Zeretzke, director of the World Pathways Ensemble. He’s not just referring to the band, but to everyone in the room. It’s a collective thing that happens when remarkable music is played. “Audiences feel the energy. It’s about love and friendship. People respond to that.”

World Pathways Ensemble will bring its “vision of traditional music of the world” to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura on Saturday, May 6. Mixing the ancient with the contemporary to “form new pathways in music and sound” is what it aims to do — but what it achieves is something beyond words.

“Music can say things that words can’t. It’s universal,” adds Zeretzke. The music that World Pathways Ensemble plays is “based in traditional music styles and folk tunes from around the world,” often reaching back thousands of years. The group of virtuoso musicians plays storied instruments such as the Sufi frame drum of Persia called daf and the stringed charango of the Andes, as well as more contemporary ones like the piano. Ancient music and cultures are in their bones, but their voices are fresh and uniquely their own. “We’ll bring a piece from Cuba, let’s say,” explains Zeretzke. “We’ll learn it and then adapt it with our own flavor.” There’s quite a bit of improvisation within the group that includes Zeretzke, Scott Hiltzik, Houman Pourmehdi, Alfredo López Mondragón and Randy Gloss.

Hiltzik plays the piano, not a common feature in most world music ensembles. It takes its rightful place in World Pathways as a folk instrument that’s been around for hundreds of years. Hitzik is an accomplished musician and composer, whose music has been featured in venues like Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House, as well as in films and Grammy-nominated recordings. He also holds the distinction of teaching actor Christoph Waltz to play the piano for his role in Django Unchained.  

Houman Pourmehdi plays Persian and Sufi instruments of Iran. He is a master percussionist, composer, teacher and member of Salaamuna Ensemble sponsored by the Music Center of Los Angeles. John Payne of LA Weekly once said that Pourmehdi was “well on his way to legendary.” His playing can be heard in such films as Syriana and Prince of Persia.

Another master percussionist, Randy Gloss, plays instruments of the Middle East and India. Known for fusing world music with jazz, Gloss has been involved with many different ensembles, including award-winning groups like Hands On’Semble, Go: Organic Orchestra and the Lian Ensemble. Gloss is also the World Percussion Chair at CalArts.

Founder and director of the folkloric music ensemble Quetzalcóatl, Alfredo López Mondragón is a vocalist, composer and teacher. He has mastered more than 20 styles of traditional Latin American music and plays more than 30 different instruments of Mexico, Latin and South America. His work has appeared in such films as The Maldonado Miracle and American Me.

A musician and composer, whose work has been called “trancelike” by the New York Times and as having a “glowing life of its own” by the Los Angeles Times, John Zeretzke plays bowed string instruments and indigenous wind instruments from around the world. He has written works for numerous ballet, dance, theater and film scores. Zeretzke is also very involved with humanitarian outreach programs. His latest project is Flutes Across the World, where students “learn through the act of giving by making and decorating two flutes — one to keep and one to give to a child in need.”

With their busy schedules, the musicians, who are longtime friends, don’t get to play together often. When they do, it’s something special. When Zeretzke was getting the group together he recalls, “One thing I look for, aside from great musicianship, are people who are good human beings. People who are warm, loving and gracious.” When members of the World Pathways Ensemble are playing onstage together, it’s much more than their virtuosity and love of music that shines through. 

World Pathways Ensemble plays on Saturday, May 6, 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, 5654 Ralston St., Ventura. Tickets sold at the door. For more information, call 798-2480 or visit www.uuventura.org.