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Trilok Gurtu Twenty Years Of Talking Tabla Review

Compilation. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

A tabla-tastic collection from the world/jazz legend.

Martin Longley 2007

The 20 years referred to in the title of this 2CD collection is only the length of the Bombay-born percussionist's solo career. Gurtu was already beginning to play Indian classical tabla at the age of six, eventually opening his jazz-fusion phase by gigging with Oregon and Don Cherry. This set's subtitle blurb reads 'the serial collaborator in full flight with...', then proceeds to list a highly impressive gathering of guest artists, hailing from both jazz and global music zones.

There's always the danger, particularly with drumming leaders, to be subsumed and sidelined by your singers, guitarists and horn players, but Trilok always invites his collaborators into his own universe, retaining a strong sense of Indian classical tradition. Often this will be pleasingly filtered via a fusion with jazz, funk, soul, hip hop, African, Latin, Far Eastern or Western classical musics, but Gurtu usually tends to emerge unscathed and undiluted.

The opening track is chronologically the earliest, taken from Gurtu's 1988 debut disc, Usfret, and featuring glorious performances by trumpeter Don Cherry, violinist L. Shankar and some scalding fuzz bass from Jonas Hellborg.

Trilok thunders around his floor-squatting full drumkit, but he'll also spend time tinkling and plinking delicately amongst his array of smaller objects. The previously unreleased “Water Solo” shows off this completely solo prowess, as Trilok immerses a thin metal sheet in a bucket of water, then warps the resulting sounds via electronic frippery.

Gurtu became strongly steeped in African music towards the end of the 1990s, enjoying duets with most of the continent's leading singers, including Angelique Kidjo, Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita. The latter's “Have We Lost Our Dream?” is an inspired, mournful singalong, completely commercialised yet thoroughly captivating. Could've been a hit single. Sangare is resolutely herself, and so is Gurtu. They just meet, and then engage in an uncompromising dialogue.

Gurtu's mother Shobha was a profound influence on his development, and she appears several times during the course of this history, usually bringing along a posse of revered Indian classical players. Gurtu can also command the presence of jazz greats like Joe Zawinul and Jan Garbarek, both of them engaging in intimate duets. Gurtu has occasionally worked with other bands since devoting himself to a solo path, giving the impression that this is not something he does lightly. So, there a couple of cuts from albums by Pharoah Sanders and John McLaughlin, the latter of whom Gurtu played with for four years at the end of the 1980s. Not an entirely successful spell, he admits, as he fades out the guitarist's solo!

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