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Trilok Gurtu

with Simon Phillips – 21 Spices

Review by Gary Hill

Let’s address one thing up front, the music here is probably not progressive rock. However, I’ve included it under that heading because Simon Phillips, who has performed in a lot of progressive rock outfits, is included. Also, the musical style is a fusion of world music and jazz (with some hints of rock at times) and that comes pretty close to prog, anyway. This is a smoking hot album. Some of the songs are studio renditions and others were recorded live. There’s not a weak cut in the bunch and each piece is packed with lots of magic. This will likely make my list of best albums of 2011 because it’s that good. Although I’ve not included them in the heading on this review, NDR Big Band also performs here.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Piece Of Five

Tribal percussion starts this and it rises up gradually with a world music texture. It’s about two minutes in before any melody beyond incidental emerges. Even then, it’s another minute or so before it comes up to a level of any kind of dominance. This works out eventually into a more jazz based movement. Still, world music really drives it and the sounds are quite mellow. Some hints of psychedelia show up, too, though. Eventually it makes its way towards more traditional melodic, mellow jazz. After the six and a half minute mark it powers out into real big band territory and they seriously jam.

A cool scat singing meets tribal starts this and the jazz band joins bringing it up right away. This is fast paced and quite cool. It powers up from there into a funky kind of jam that still has a lot of world music built in to the mix. This is a killer number that’s unique and very cool. They take it out later into a mellower motif that combines King Crimson with psychedelic elements. Then a reprise of those vocals comes in along with more real big band wailing. This is a powerhouse. We are taken through a number of changes and this thing just plain screams.
Kuruk Setra
Percussion leads it out here, then it shifts to a smooth jazz groove that’s very cool. There a lot of changes and alterations built into this number. It has some moments that feel a bit like King Crimson, but it’s really very much pure jazz. In fact, there’s a lot less world music here than on the two openers. There are some seriously dramatic moments in this piece. It seems at times that just when you think they can’t take it any higher, they find a new plateau. Interestingly enough when some of the world music elements do show up they are more in the form of some mild Eastern leanings in the melody.
A percussion solo leads this one out and the group create a killer jazz jam after that. The number, like the last couple pieces, just keeps changing and growing. It’s not really got a lot of world music here, beyond that percussive introduction. Even that intro, wasn’t wholly world in nature. This is some killer jazz that really rocks. Now, all that said, they drop it back mid song for another of those tribal scat bits with some killer tribal percussion. It powers back out and the jazz returns after that.
Broken Rhythms
More smoking hot jazz, this has some killer guitar work (fusion style). At less than four and a half minutes in length, it’s the shortest piece on the set, but that doesn’t make it any less vital. This thing really rocks. It gets incredibly powerful later.
There’s some particularly noteworthy bass playing on this killer tune. They take us through some interesting changes and alterations in this, the disc’s longest performance (10:20). There’s some seriously scorching guitar work built into this and we get more of that tribal scat. Further down this musical road we get a drop back for a percussion solo. It starts with the tribal variety, but then works out to the jazz style. Later that scat is combined with jazz to great effect.
21 Spices
Killer big band horns and funky bass drive this jazz powerhouse. It doesn’t stay in that particular place for long. Like pretty much everything here, they move it out into different directions, but the funk bass returns after a time and serves as the impetus for another jam. This one is, in many ways, the most dynamic cut on show. They take it in a lot of different directions.
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