"Twenty Years of Talking Tabla" is a 20-year journey through the career of percussionist Trilok Gurtu. Rita Ray of BBC Radio described him as “a serial collaborator” – this carefully chosen compilation shows exactly that side of him. As a world class virtuoso, now in his mid fifties, Trilok has attracted a world class set of collaborators; these started with John McLaughlin in whose trio Trilok flourished as the featured soloist for 4 years, other jazz greats continued this path – Joe Zawinul, Jan Garbarek, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders were all attracted to Trilok’s burning sense of rhythm. Of course he is deeply rooted in the Indian tradition, so it is no surprise to see that collaborations also took place with the glitterati of Indian musical society – his mother, Shobha Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, L. Shankar, Shankar Mahadevan and Sultan Khan. World music has become an established genre in which Trilok has further “ploughed his own furrow” to great effect, collaborating with Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Angelique Kidjo, Neneh Cherry, Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, the Malian musicians from the Frikywa family and the Italian, Arke String Quartet.
Trilok is obviously obsessed with colours, tones and rhythms while never neglecting melody, and as such, he is a musician who brings passion, vision and craft to his compositions and performances that make them immediately accessible. The sleeve notes below were compiled by Gerry Lyseight, Gaham Lawson and of course Trilok Gurtu. I happily confess that I own virtually all of these albums.
"Shobharock" from Usfret recorded in 1987 Silva Screen Records (CMP)
Twenty Years ago, Trilok released his first solo album Usfret (influencing the likes of Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation and Nitin Sawhney in the process) and formed his own road band in 1988. Shobharock is the opening track and features his mother’s layered vocals over a striding electronic beat alongside compadres Don Cherry on trumpet, Jonas Hellborg on electric and fuzz bass and L Shankar on doubleneck electric violin. TG: “This was the first time I had recorded with my Mum and I had to trick her into doing it as she had never worked with Western drums before. I recorded her parts with only Tabla backing and added the other instruments later. When she heard the finished track she said “Who’s the singer?”. She grew to love the track and through it learned to sing harmony.”
"African Fantasy" from "African Fantasy" recorded in 1999 Mintaka Recordings
Benin’s Angelique Kidjo sings the almost hymn-like title track from 1999’s African Fantasy. Trilok adds the lightest of percussion and Ravi Chary adds to the mood on Harmonium. Nicholas Fiszman brings a gloriously subtle E Bow guitar.TG: “African Fantasy is my arrangement of a song by L. Shankar called Song for Everyone which I originally performed with him alongside Jan Garbarek and Zakir Hussein”.
"Have We Lost Our Dream" from "The Beat of Love" recorded in 2001 Blue Thumb (Universal)
This is a wonderful collaboration masterminded by Trilok: Salif Keita, “the golden voice of Africa” sings a poignant duet with Sabine Kabongo -about his sadness for the future of Africa, lamenting the various States in Africa – listen carefully you can here all the names of the States. Sabine, who had an illustrious career with Zap Mama, answers Salif’s Malian vocal in English. Wally Badarou adds synth and Amit Heri guitar in an exquisite piece.
"Dinki Puriya" from "African Fantasy" recorded in 1999 Mintaka Recordings
You can imagine Trilok and sitar player Ravi Chary watching each other intensely as they perform this intricate conversation between tabla and sitar on ‘99’s African Fantasy CD.
"Expression Of Love" from "Remembrance" recorded in 2002 Universal India
Remembrance was recorded by Universal India in Bombay, it was a coup to get so many respected musicians to appear together; Trilok wrote this track for his mother to perform with Shankar Mahadevan and Sultan Khan. Shobha Gurtu, close to her eightieth year, with a wall full of Government Awards, was offered a duet with Shankar Mahadevan. He is still a young man who has rapidly become a star due to his wonderful singing in Bollywood films. So for him, this was a chance in a life time, but then to add Sultan Khan too, was amazing. Sultan Khan is the most venerated Sarangi player having accompanied Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakah for many years before succeeding with a solo career. The result is stunning.
"Water Solo" previously unreleased recorded live by Denmark Radio. Engineer Jacob Langkilde, Producer Anders Dohn in Copenhagen in 2003
I first saw Trilok perform live in the late 90s and that show remains one of the best I have ever seen from anyone. Trilok sits/kneals on a carpeted stage surrounded by all manner of percussion instruments, including a bucket of water. Every instrument is there for a reason – none of it is for display or novelty. It can be quite difficult to see exactly how some of the sounds are produced although at another show there was a mirror arrangement above his head angled towards the audience which solved a few musical mysteries. One of the many highlights of that first show was his Water Solo which involves him striking a thin sheet of metal, amplifying the resulting reverberations and slowly submerging the vibration metal into the aforementioned bucket of water - creating an ethereal sound akin to something devised in the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
"The Other Tune" recorded in 1993 from "Crazy Saints" Silva Screen Records (CMP)
A Joe Zawinul tune featuring the great ex-Weather Report man on keyboards and his trademark vocoder mano a mano with Trilok on drums, tabla and percussion. TG: “Joe had originally planned to record with me for 2 days but we got on so well that 2 days became 10 and then we toured as a duet for a year. I knew that he enjoyed boxing so I originally suggested the duet idea! He wanted me to join his band but I explained that my days of being a sideman ended after working with John McLaughlin. I like to play my way and collaborate with musicians I respect rather that join someone else’s band ”.
"Balahato" recorded in 2006 from "Arkeology" Promo Music
Balahato comes from Trilok’s latest release- Arkeology - recorded with Italy’s Arke String Quartet and has an almost Celtic feel - with Trilok providing both the pulse as well as the percussive vocal against sawing strings. John L Walters puts it well in The Guardian “These accomplished players mesh and weave in the best 20th-century manner, and violinist Valentino Corvino is a passionate soloist. Their tunes imply Indian, Balkan and Celtic rhythms, in asymmetric time signatures that suit Gurtu down to the last demisemiquaver: he flies around the six-, seven- and 14-beat patterns.”
"Seven Brings Return" recorded in 1998 from "Kathak" Mintaka Recordings
Steve Lukather is one of the world’s most sought after session guitarists, best known for his work with Toto as well as Randy Crawford, Michael Jackson et al and he features here heavily on virtuoso axe. Trilok’s incendiary blasts of percussion and vocal colour an evolving melody. TG: “Seven is a lucky number in many cultures and 7/8 is a favourite time signature of mine. Steve said it was a great time signature to listen to, but really difficult to play but he did a great job”.
"Mother Tongues" Edited to 4:53 recorded in 1989 from "Live at the RFH" JMT Recordings (Universal)
Recorded live at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 27th November 1989 (from which the album takes its title), Trilok was part of legendary guitarist John McLaughlin’s Trio which also features Kai Eckhardt, one of the world’s great bass players and a member of several of Trilok’s own bands. Here three giants of their chosen instruments match each other lick for lick in a literal master class of jazz improvisation. TG: “I have to give great credit to John for sticking to his guns and believing in this project because it wasn’t an immediate success. My drum solo on Mother Tongues attracted lots of praise and after this live album we played to bigger and bigger audiences around the world”.
"Dance With My Lover" previously unreleased recorded live by Denmark Radio. Engineer Jacob Langkilde, Producer Anders Dohn in Copenhagen in 2003
Trilok’s composition originally appeared on “The Beat of Love”, but this is a Live recording two years after the studio album appeared with Sanchita Farruque taking the vocal duties and Celia Reggiani playing keyboards. Ravi Chary, a long-time member of Trilok’s road band, plays sitar. Usually a quiet, dignified man, one can hear that on this performance he was really rocking – in fact it was one of those rare occasions where a classical sitar player stood up and played his sitar like a guitar. The whole performance is really cooking.
"Save Our Children" recorded in 1999 from "Save our Children" Verve Records
Save Our Children is taken from the sax legend Pharoah Sanders’ album of the same name produced by Bill Laswell who captures an incredible Tabla sound for Trilok. It contains a spiritual chorus and African rap. The creator has a master plan - and it involves Trilok.
"Big Brother" recorded in 1999 from "African Fantasy" Mintaka Recordings
Oumou Sangare is Mali’s most high profile campaigner for women’s rights internationally as well as one of their most famous singers. She features on African Fantasy and adds her superb vocal to Big Brother backed by a typically tight, funky band with Trilok chipping in on the vocals. TG: “Africa Fantasy was about bringing together the African and Indian roots of jazz. I had known of Oumou for many years and when I asked her to participate she jumped at the idea. I said she could do whatever she wanted and she turned up at the studio with 2 backing singers and an n’goni player”.
"Once I Wished a Tree Upside Down" recorded in 1991 from "Living Magic" Silva Screen Records
When Trilok recorded his second album “Living Magic”, our serial collaborator was still in his collaborating infancy, yet this duet with Jan Garbarek shows us what is to come. Here Trilok on tabla and percussion duets with Jan’s skipping sax weaving melody lines in and out. An early example of Garbarek’s distinctive sax sound that was to become so popular later on.
"You, Remember This" recorded in 1998 from "Kathak" Mintaka Recordings
A beautiful song, written by Trilok and his mother Shobha, she titled it, so its become a “keepsake” for Trilok. It was inspired by a street musician they came across. Shobha gives a wonderful vocal performance for her son while Kai Eckhardt underpins Trilok’s rhythm and adds a wonderful melodic bass solo towards the end.
"Agne Yano" recorded in 2005 from "Farakala" Frikyiwa Records
Proving again that no musical category can confine him Trilok takes to Mali to collaborate on a project put together by French DJ Frédéric Galliano’s Frikyiwa organisation. Hadja Kouyaté sings lead on Agne Yano. Abandoning all his familiar instruments, Trilok gets into the African spirit with balafon, water calabash and shékéré. TG: “I trekked 700 kilometres into Mali for this recording in very difficult circumstances. Afterwards I travelled to Bamako to stay at Oumou Sangare’s hotel. She said that it was a part of the country that was incredibly inaccessible and was amazed that I had spent time in what was effectively desert!”.
"Greetings" recorded in 2002 from "Remembrance" Universal India
This track was eagerly anticipated by the Indian musical community, they knew that nobody other than Trilok could stand the heat from Zakir’s revered tabla playing. They were not disappointed – “Greetings” sees the two maestros go head to head with Trilok excelling on sonic effects, kit and percussion while Hussain runs through his formidable repertoire on the tabla. TG: “I had known Zakir for years and my mother read an interview of his where he stated that, I had taught Western drummers how to play the kit. She agreed with what Zakir said, which was a great compliment from both of them”.
"Vignola" recorded in 2003 from "Broken Rhythms" Mintaka Recordings
The adventurous fusion of Italy’s Arke String Quartet and Tuvan throat singers, Huun Huur Tu, point up Trilok’s ceaseless musical imagination. They add their unique colours to what was essentially a duo piece recorded in his home town of Bombay with Trilok on percussion and Roop Kumar on vocal.
"Ganapati" recorded in 1998 from "Kathak" Mintaka Recordings
The Kathak CD features Trilok in the company of his band at the time, The Glimpse. Ganapati features the voice of Neneh Cherry and is dedicated to the memory of her stepfather, the great innovative Jazz man, Don Cherry, who had been instrumental in bringing Trilok to the West. TG: “Ganapati is the king of all attributers, remover of all obstacles and relates to the benevolent Hindu God Ganesh. I saw Don in that light, to me he was the great innovator, more so than Miles Davis, and way before his time. A true inspiration to others, he knew that music, the best music, had to touch spirituality. Not many achieve this even momentarily but it’s something everyone can feel when it happens. This was what Don was always striving for. Neneh was almost in tears as she sang”.
"Planet Earth" recorded in 2003 a remix by Talvin Singh, from "Remembrance" Universal India
Tabla player and DJ Talvin Singh is a long-standing devotee of Trilok’s and can often be seen in the audience at Trilok’s shows. As the most visible proponent of the British Asian Underground scene in the ‘90’s and collaborator with everyone from Bjork to Madonna, Talvin here pays his respects to his mentor with this remix of Planet Earth a medley of tracks from Remembrance.