Over the course of the last 25 years Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu has established himself as a respected, in-demand musician, releasing in excess of 30 albums that have bridged the worlds of jazz, fusion, world, classical, electronica and traditional Hindustani music. He’s proved himself to be an inventive, forward-thinking musician, with an insatiable appetite for creation and performing.
His recent output has been of a particularly high standard – collaborating in 2006 with the Arke String Quartet on the relatively pared-back Arkeology and impressing with his band on the varied, colourful evocations of 2009’s Massical. His music very much embodies the spirit of collaboration and he has assembled an impressive cast of musicians for Spellbound, an album that mixes original compositions with a few carefully selected covers.
It’s an album largely informed and inspired by African-American trumpeter Don Cherry, an important influence on Gurtu in the 1970s. This manifests itself primarily through the dominant instrument on Spellbound – the trumpet. The 12 tracks feature the playing of seven trumpeters of differing nationality. The first full piece (excluding the brief opening improvisation) is a version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca that features Turkish trumpeter Hasan Gozetlik. Its boundless energy and open, fluid gestures act as a marker for what is to follow. It also showcases Gurtu’s distinctive tala vocalisations which serve as a reminder that this isn’t an everyday, standard jazz album.
The other two reprisings of older material come in the form of All Blues by Miles Davis and Universal Mother by Don Cherry. Ibrahim Maalouf appears on the latter, contributing to its flashes of near carnivalesque exuberance and rhythm, whilst the former sees Ambrose Akinmusire prominent, injecting the original with a big band feel, with Gurtu also affording himself some space at the end for a rare tabla/drum solo.
It’s arguably the original compositions provide the most eye-catching moments however, particularly true on Jack Johnson/Black Satin. Aided by Nils Petter Molvaer, it undergoes a painstaking formation before taking off in style, boasting a bristling swagger that recalls the likes of The Cinematic Orchestra and Jaga Jazzist. Later, Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu provides melodic brushwork on Berchidda, a role which is then passed on to German jazz musician Matthias Schreifl for following track Like Popcorn.
Ibrahim Maalouf’s playing on Cuckoo sees him add confident, bold phrasing to the track but it’s debatable whether the intermittent bird sounds add anything other than mild distraction. There are other moments that also work less well – the vocals on Cosmic Roundabout/Brown Rice and the relatively low-key title track – but on the whole the standard is consistent. Spellbound is impressively cohesive, too; in no sense does the album sound fragmented, despite the variety of musicians.
Given Gurtu’s background it’s possible to see Spellbound as a kind of coming together of a world view and a belief in the power and importance of music. Even in his ’60s he’s showing he’s still in thrall to what it can achieve and offer.