In a 35-year career that's stretched from Oregon and saxophonists Jan Garbarek and Charlie Mariano, to violinist Shankar and guitarists John McLaughlin and Nguyen Le, Trilok Gurtu has established a very specific talent. Few kit drummers are as adept as Gurtu on tabla and the Indian konnakol vocal percussion tradition; conversely, few tablaists/konnakol experts are as capable as Gurtu on kit. Gurtu's entire career has been predicated on cross-genre boundary busting that's resulted in a small but distinctive discography, from the instrumental (but still Indo-centric) jazz of Crazy Saints (CMP, 1993), with guest guitarist Pat Metheny and keyboardist Joe Zawinul, to the Indo-pop-meets-Afrobeat of The Beat of Love (Blue Thumb, 2001), produced by Wally Badarou (Talking Heads, Level 42, Robert Palmer) and featuring where a number of singers.
In many ways, Spellbound brings Gurtu's career full circle, with 1988's "Usfret" (CMP), a stunning debut that—with guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner (with whom Gurtu was playing, at the time, in Oregon) and, most importantly, trumpeter and early mentor Don Cherry—announced an artist whose compositional and band leading talent were clearly equal to his already inimitable abilities as a performer. Spellbound is, beyond the obvious tribute to legendary trumpeters including, alongside Cherry, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie (all represented by their own compositions and Gurtu's original tributes), a celebration of the instrument itself, with guests including Norway's Nils Petter Molvaer, Lebanese-born/Paris-resident Ibrahim Maalouf, Italy's Paolo Fresu, Turkey's Hasan Gözetlik and Germany's Matthias Schriefl and Matthias Höfs. Superb trumpeters all, their participation also demonstrates Gurtu's astute talent for choosing the right trumpeter for the right material.
Surely any one of these impressive players could augment Gurtu's core trio on a medley of Davis' ethereal title track to A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970) and more upbeat "Black Satin," from On the Corner (Columbia, 1972). Still, Molvær is clearly an inspired choice. The Norwegian trumpeter's own music, heard most recently on Baboon Moon (Sula, 2011), has always been a cultural mélange of otherworldly atmospherics, thundering grooves and fiery rock-outs; here, he engages Gurtu in an incendiary duo where the virtuosic percussionist combines tabla and drum kit so seamlessly as to suggest two players, not just one. Eschewing imitation, Molvær's tone is his own—warm, buttery and anything but brash—clearly demonstrating that he may not perform this kind of music often, but it's not a matter of ability, it's a matter of choice.
Most trumpeters get two tunes each: one by Gurtu, like the upbeat and curiously funky "Cuckoo," where Maalouf's brighter tone perfectly suits the percussionist's more buoyant yet thematically knotty writing, and Cherry's "Universal Mother," where the trumpeter's Middle Eastern roots come to the fore in a set-defining intro to an even more joyous song driven by Gurtu's kit work, bassist Jonathan Cuniado's unshakable yet pliant anchor and keyboardist Tulung Tirpan's busy yet never superfluous support. Molvær's understated approach dovetails perfectly with Gurtu's title track—dedicated to Miles Davis but, with Tirpan's synths and a bubbling pulse, feeling more like something from the Zawinul Syndicate songbook.
In recent years, Gurtu has driven many of his recordings with concepts, from the large ensemble-driven 21 Spices (Birdjam, 2011) to his return to roots on Remembrance (EmArcy, 2002). A 5/4-driven look at Davis' "All Blues" (featuring up-and-coming trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on the first solo) or a version of Gillespie's "Manteca," transported to Gurtu's universe through a mix of Gözetlik's expressive playing, an idiosyncratically revised but still memorable theme and some carefully placed konnakol, might seem like sacrilege to purists, but to Gurtu, and a fan base out in droves at his recent ELBJazz Festival performance in Hamburg, Germany (where he currently resides)—it's clearly all just music.
And good music it is, too. With Spellbound, Gurtu has delivered one of his best records to date, a compelling marriage of his own cultural heritage with a jazz tradition clearly open to the pan-cultural musings of each and every one of his superb guest trumpeters—and his equally impressive trio mates.
Track Listing: Improvisation Live: Don Cherry & Trilok Gurtu; Manteca; Jack Johnson/Black Satin; Cuckoo; Berchidda; Like Popcorn; Haunting; Universal Mother; Spellbound; All Blues; Cosmic Roundabout/Brown Rice; Thank You by Don Cherry.
Personnel: Don Cherry: trumpet (1), voice (12); Hasan Gözetlik: trumpet (2); Trilok Gurtu: percussion (1-11), drums (2-11), vocal (2, 4), additional keyboard (2, 5, 6, 9), tumbura (3), tabla (3, 5, 6, 10, 11); Tulug Tirpan: keyboards (2-6, 8, 9, 11), piano (7, 10) ; Jonathan Cunaido: bass (2-11): Nitin Shankar: additional percussion (2, 6); Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet (3, 9); Carlo Cantini: additional keyboards (3); Ibrahim Maalouf: trumpet (4, 8); Paolo Fresu: trumpet (5, 11), effects (5, 11); Matthias Schriefl: trumpet (6); Matthias Höfs: trumpet (7), doublebell trumpet (10, second solo); Helene Traub: english horn (7); Jakob Janeschitz-Kriegel: cello (7); Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (10, first solo).
Record Label: Moosicus Gmbh
Style: Beyond Jazz