I enjoyed trying to imagine just what this CD was going to sound like, months before it was actually available. I know a lot about both musicians and own about everything I am aware of with both Trilok and Simon on it. It’s volumes! Until I heard about the NDR Big Band from Germany was on “21 Spices” I was thinking a fancy fusion. I was mostly correct. This is an usual stew to be sure. One that is very exciting and with great energy and zeal.
Trilok Gurtu is an amazing (if not the world’s best) tabla player, as well as a superior all around drummer/percussionist. He is known for being in Don Cherry’s group in the 70's as well as playing with a host of other jazz and fusion artists such a John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner, Jan Garbarek, and even Pink Floyd’s David Gilmore. Then you have Simon Phillips that is an immaculate drummer who has made the music of so many great artists’ music more brilliant sounding (examples Gordon Giltrap, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Beck, t name a few). Many don’t know that Phillips played drums on Mike Rutherford’s (Genesis) debut solo ‘Smallcreep’s Day” and did a simply outrageously great job on that. One of his all time greatest performances.
So you have two of the finest percussive musicians on the planet, together on one CD. Simply put, its even more thrilling and incredible than I even imagined it would be. Some of the cuts are live, some are studio, but strangely enough, it all flows with no distractions or even any oddness to the listener. It’s as if the whole thing is just playing on one giant stage in front of you. It’s such a cool mixture of ethnic eastern, big band, and various fusion ala Weather Report, with some nice surprise fusion. If you never liked big band, then try this stuff! It’s a very ambitious and inventive big band. In other words, progressive big band in the largest sense. Many of the greatest progressive rock drummers have had a desire to play big band, and have done so. Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, UK, etc ) did lots of it with his Earthworks band, Phil Collins constantly told interviewers his fantasy gig was to play with big band and he later did an entire solo big band CD and live performance big band music. Simon Phillips did some fusion jazz solos and he also desired this big band position and now he’s done it here. Why? Because it is exciting, heavy on the complex rhythm, just pure energy and swimming in groove for a drummer. It’s like being in the middle of several choirs who sing different notes sometimes all over, and sometimes in unison, all around you, swirling like a high speed carousel. Quite the ride! I’ve played drums for 44 years, and taught drums/percussion for the last 8 years. I too, was drawn from pop, the British Invasion, classic rock, progressive rock, to the classical, folk, jazz, eastern and then Latin and big band as the journey has continued. Not throwing away much from my past experience, I enjoy the tidal wave of the big band these days as much as all the other progressive music in my collection. So back to the great recording at hand.
Trilok plays tabla, various percussion, drum set (his set is a unique sit down on the floor, with no official bass drum trap set) and does voice (which is unreal as well), Simon on drums and percussion, and a fantastic line up of other jazz greats. As a little related trivia, Simon Phillips played tabla on the song ‘Please Don’t Judas Me” by Nazareth on Hair Of The Dog album way back in the 1975 (that was one of my first exposures to Simon Phillips). The music on 21 Spices is not all big band oriented, as it also has some beautiful eastern world fusion closer to Jan Garbarek’s more laid back music. It’s just the right combination of rest and run. It’s not necessary for me to ramble on, as this is just a fabulous recording. To finish the CD off, they do the song ‘21 Spices” and it is humongous! This is brilliant and beyond! I hope to get a DVD of the performance if one is marketed. For now, just listening is stunning at times. Think Trilok and Simon joined Weather Report and you might have a good idea of this. For me, it’s moves up on to it’s own shelf of ultimate progressive big band fusion. YES!! Fully and highly recommended to all!
Reviewed by Lee Henderson on March 12th, 2011