Trilok Gurtu review – a unique Indian percussion maestro

Ronnie Scott's, London
The Indian master's collaborators weren't quite in his league, but with all ears on his extraordinary drum vocals, it didn't matter

Trilok Gurtu, the Indian classical percussion prodigy and world-music colossus, has brought a young multinational quartet to Ronnie Scott's, to play the music – inspired by his collaborations with the footloose and inspirational late trumpeter Don Cherry – from his recent Spellbound album.

That set draws influences from all over jazz, from classic bebop to free-form and effects-heavy Miles Davis-inspired funk, and the opening night's early pieces quickly embraced a Cherry dedication, Dizzy Gillespie's Latin-bop classic Manteca, and the funkily electronic early-1970s Miles Davis pieces Black Satin and Jack Johnson. Young German trumpeter Frederik Köster and pianist Tuluğ Tirpan sounded tentative on the brassy riffs and salsa-chord dances of Manteca, but the leader coaxed them with a typical flickerbook of jazz-cymbal beats, tabla fusillades, booming low-end rolls and chattering Indo-scat (the fast wordless drum-vocals Gurtu specialises in). With Achim Seifert's deft basslines murmuring beneath, the group soon shook itself loose.

Gurtu's impression of Miles Davis in Bollywood was no joke, but a progression of echoing bugged-trumpet effects and slowly falling cadences ended up in synth-slashes and racing tempos like a Joe Zawinul band. A composition by Italian trumpeter and frequent Gurtu collaborator Paolo Fresu showcased a mesmerising percussion break that highlighted the voice-like expressiveness the drummer brings to drum-tones. By the second set, Köster's upper range was pristine on acoustic sounds, and his phrasing elegantly edited on a sunnily dancing, almost Hugh Masekela-like groover. Gurtu's new partners aren't quite in his remarkable league, but since all eyes and ears are on the unique percussion maestro anyway, it doesn't matter. Anyone with even the faintest interest in how rhythm works (does that leave anybody out?) should hear him.

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John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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