Trilok Gurtu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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TRILOK GURTU

The son of a renowned Indian classical singer, percussionist Trilok Gurtu has spent the past quarter century blending the musical heritage of his native country with Western idioms: he's played with like-minded jazzmen such as Joe Zawinul and John McLaughlin, toured with the band Oregon, and even developed a unique low-slung trap set he can play while seated on the floor, allowing him ready access to his tablas. Gurtu's ambitious recent albums--African Fantasy and the brand-new The Beat of Love, both on Blue Thumb--run parallel to his long-running project to fuse East and West, forging a powerful new link between Asian and African musics. "Maya," one of the best songs from The Beat of Love, demonstrates what makes this connection work: Gurtu distills the melodic vocabulary of India into simplified riffs and hooks, which hug the crests of Afropop rhythms drawn primarily from the continent's western states. (Most previous Asian-African fusions have been made by Middle Eastern musicians, who by dint of geography tend to borrow from eastern Africa.) The new record's crowd of guest artists helps sell Gurtu's concept too; the all-star lineup includes thrilling Malian vocalist Salif Keita, chic Benin-born chanteuse Angelique Kidjo, and Roop Kumar, whose work in Indian films and music videos has made him a heartthrob on the subcontinent. All this international firepower could have turned the album into a pointlessly eclectic romp, but Gurtu's guiding principle--to focus on the hypnotic repetition and constant permutation that both African rhythmic patterns and Indian song forms employ--keeps it coherent, resulting in a hard-to-resist pop synthesis. It ought to sound almost as good in the hands of Gurtu's touring band, which includes several musicians from The Beat of Love: guitarist Amit Heri, bass guitarist Hilaire Penda, and most notably singer Sabine Kabongo, a cofounder and former member of the Afropean vocal quintet Zap Mama. Friday, July 13, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Guido Harari.

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