The disparate musical roots of master percussionist Trilok Gurtu and renowned rock/jazz/fusion drummer Simon Phillips come together on 21 Spices, an East-West drummer’s summit backed by the 21-piece NDR Big Band. The album documents the pair’s long-awaited collaboration both in the studio and during two German festivals in May 2010. Gurtu, steeped in the musical tradition of his Indian homeland, and Englishman Phillips, a former member of the rock band Toto who has played with The Who, Stanley Clarke and Peter Gabriel, each contribute their distinct sensibilities to create a zesty world/fusion offering. The material, written and recorded by Gurtu on several albums, was arranged by Wolf Kerschek and conducted by Jörg Achim Keller, each tune serving up a different flavor.
Gurtu has long demonstrated his fascination with Western, African and Arabic music; these multicultural influences, central to his compositions, are evident here, as is his collaboration with Joe Zawinul. With Phillips, the big band, Michel Alibo on electric bass and Roland Cabezas on guitar, his textured compositions take on an added dimension. Intensity gradually builds around Gurtu’s tabla on the mystical opener “Peace of Five,” followed by his stunning spoken percussion on the fiery “1-2 Beaucoup.” Brass and woodwind fuse East and West, combining to a sizzle on “Balahto.” The entire ensemble reaches its climax on the complex closing title track. It’s a logically thrilling capper to a project that should satisfy world-music fans, fusion heads and drum fiends alike.