The richness of percussion makes Billy Cobham look conservative.

Jazz Line D77119

Trilok Gurti (tablas, drums, keyboards, electric bass and the Basic 1); Deviki Pandi (vocals)

It seems strange to read that this album is the first one that Trilok Gurtu has been solely responsible for.  He is quite scathing about some of the producers that he has worked for and with:  ‘I’ve had managers and producers that were calling the shots in the past, even though they didn’t have a clue about music. They would tell me, ‘You want to be famous? You want to have hit? You have to do it this way because your tunes will never make it. Either you’re ahead of your time or it’s just not happening, one of the two.’

Trilok has been a serial collaborator and the list is dazzling: Don Cherry, Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Pat Metheny, Pharoah Sanders, Nitin Sawhney, Lalo Schifrin, Gilberto Gil, Bill Laswell, Charlie Mariano, Shankar, Nils Petter Molvaer, Lebanese-born Ibrahim Maalouf, Italy’s Paolo Fresu, Turkey’s Hasan Gözetlik and Germany’s Matthias Schriefl and Matthias Höfs.

The rhythms that Gurtu introduces are complex; they are at the heart of his work, rooted as they are in the rhythms of India.  Western music has concentrated on melody and harmony and many of the great symphonists have neglected complex rhythms.  Gurtu is a tabla master: his grandfather was a well-known sitar player and his mother Shobha Gurtu, a classical singer and an influence on his early learning.  He really did learn his skills at his mother’s feet.

His main collaborators on the album are Carlo Cantini and Robert Miles.  Cantini is one of those musicians schooled in the classical world who has sought other areas.  Robert Miles who died in2017 worked with Gurtu on the album Miles_Gurtu.  His ideas are an important part of the ‘No Fear Suite’.

There are different ways to listen to Trilok Gurtu.  If you are a devotee of Indian music, you can analyse how far Gurtu has deviated from classical Indian style and what he has brought to western music.  If you are a lover of percussion you can sink into the glorious sounds that emanate from his potpourri of percussion, a richness that makes Billy Cobham look conservative.

It is a technique that draws equally from Indian tabla and dhol drums, from jazz music (cymbals, hi-hats) tambourin, korg wave drum and from other ethnic cultures (gongs, congas, cowbells, snares). He even dipped resonating instruments in buckets of water to produce sounds that he could not produce with traditional instruments. Ferdinand Forsch has even made a new instrument the Basic 1.

Listening to Gurtu is reminiscent of John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions, an early attempt to employ eastern rhythmic patterns, at the same time Coltrane Rashied Ali were incorporating similar ideas.  There is less compromise with Gurtu and more ease.

The ‘No Fear Suite’ with preliminary work from Robert Miles is nothing less than challenging avant-garde music from Miles and Gurtu.  This is searing, blurring the lines between genres.  The heavy drumming and the keening sounds and the recessed voice creating an air of mystery.

At times the music seems as though you are in a garden with exotic birdsong that slowly morphs into a metal factory with harsh clangs that are overlaid with incantatory whispers and sounds of dripping water.  This is magic music a secret world of eternal rhythm over laid with an infinite variety of percussive sounds.

In ‘Behind The Screen’ Devik Pandit’s voice overlays the reverberating deep percussion.   In ‘Gluten Free Song’ Sabine Kabongo’s vocals soar over synths, bass and tabla.  In ‘Chalo, Chalo, Chalo, there is what sounds like Indian castanets.  Finally, the last track, ‘So Happy’, is a celebratory dance track that will make dancing seem obligatory.

The album with its short, finely honed compositions and its varied rhythms is a challenge to open minded listeners who want to sink into the flow of energetic percussive patterns way beyond the norm.

Reviewed by Jack Kenny