Two short snippets recorded live by and with Don Cherry bookend the album “Spellbound”: a 33-second improvisation in a duo with Cherry on trumpet and Trilok Gurtu, who can be heard on the drum set especially converted and modified for his needs, forms the start of the new CD by the Indian percussionist, while a brief “Thank you, thank you very much” from Cherry for the applause of the audience closes the album.
Even though the other pieces on “Spellbound” contain no other recordings with this jazz legend, who died in Malaga in Spain in 1995, every single sound on the CD is an expression of Trilok Gurtu's great admiration for the man and musician Don Cherry. After all, it was the American trumpeter who, in the first half of the 1970s, encouraged the young percussionist, freshly arrived in Europe, i.e. Italy, from his homeland of India, to pursue his vision of an intuitive music which is open to the world and embraces the world, and to realise this vision.
And even more. With every track on “Spellbound” Trilok Gurtu has turned to the instrument that Cherry himself played: the trumpet. This brass instrument is practically a symbol for Gurtu's own musical vision. In its different versions, the trumpet has found a place in countless cultural circles around the world and has become an essential element of many different styles. The trumpet plays an important role in classical, symphonic music, just as in pop, world and, of course, jazz music.
“Spellbound” is by no means a typical album for the percussionist who was born in 1951 in Bombay (today Mumbai) in India. For several reasons. At first glance we are surprised that, after such a long time, Trilok Gurtu has turned again to improvised music even though all his life the concept of “jazz” has always been far too restrictive. But, just like his one-time mentor and friend Don Cherry, with whom Gurtu started playing just a few years after the first encounter in Italy, he is not concerned with style boundaries. For Gurtu jazz is an attitude which makes it possible for him in the first place to overcome the boundaries between styles and genres; and to elaborate the quintessence - also in emotional terms - of his music: jazz as a universal language which, despite all of its different dialects, is spoken and understood all over the world.
With “Spellbound” Gurtu once again underlines the fact that jazz still forms the basis for his musical oeuvre. With his band he takes a surprising leap into the history of swing music in the USA and also plays pieces by style-forming trumpeters who have long been a part of the jazz canon: Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban classic “Manteca”, or a tribute to the extraordinary fusion sound of Miles Davis from the 1970s, “Jack Johnson/Black Saint”, as well as his “All Blues” from the masterpiece “Kind Of Blue” and, of course, Don Cherry's “Universal Mother” which, with its genre-crossing flow in the version by Gurtu, is almost like a further motto for “Spellbound”. With the music on his new album the percussionist succeeds in something that nowadays is unusual and indeed rare: building a bridge between the continents and cultures. With “old” Europe as the geographical basis which, with its multi-layered cultural and musical history, has become Gurtu's second home.
This becomes clear in the line-up of trumpeters he invited to collaborate in the recording of “Spellbound”. The Norwegian Nils Petter Molvær, for example, who, like no other European trumpeter, can translate the seething funk-rock mixture of a Miles Davis from the early 1970s into the expression of an improvising musician from Europe. Or the Italian Paolo Fresu, who always manages to transform the melodious, hot-blooded temperament of his homeland into a cool sound design. Or the German multi-talent Matthias Schriefl, whose youthful impetuosity stretches even Gurtu's music beyond the boundaries of tonality. And then there is Ibrahim Maalouf, a native of Lebanon living in France, who plays the melisma of Arabic musical culture on his unusual quarter tone trumpet, as well as Hasan Gözetlik from Turkey, who transfers the emotionality-increasing microtonality of the folklore of his homeland to a current, contemporary music.
A veritable symbol of Trilok Gurtu's vision of a world music “without borders” is a number that in this acoustic context is a genuine surprise. With his version of Miles Davis' “All Blues”, Gurtu mixes the cultures in passing: In a 5/4 time unusual for this jazz classic, Gurtu and his band generate a link to the rhythmic consciousness of his homeland India. With his scintillatingly phrased solo, the young US trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire takes the succinct riff theme back to its origins in the USA and, with a bow to the great musical history of Europe, the classical trumpet virtuoso Matthias Höfs from Hamburg brings this Miles Davis classic to an end. Trilok Gurtu's equilateral triangle, with the equally musical and cultural corner points of India America and Europe, is perfect.