Trilok Gurtu's latest is not pure jazz, or pure Indian, or pure anything. It's just great.
Trilok Gurtu is some musician: not just a bandleader, drummer and percussionist but a great showman. He works with legends, such as Zawinul and McLaughlin; he writes songs with Salif Keita and Chris Difford (Squeeze). His performances are drawn from the improvisation traditions of Indian classical music and jazz, but he has an urge to communicate that transcends the intrinsic "difficulty" of such music.
Some of Gurtu's previous albums have been tentative, laden with stars, as if worried that nobody would buy a record that was pure Gurtu. African Fantasy included some great players, but had a production sound that was closer to US session jazz. The Beat of Love was more disappointing, the gloss of Wally Badarou's over-production tending to bland out the spiky charm of Gurtu's personality.
With Remembrance (Universal, £12.99) by Trilok Gurtu, we're getting much closer to the real man. There are still plenty of guest stars, but they're Indian singers, such as Shankar Mahadevan and Shobha Gurtu (the drummer's famous mother), and instrumentalists, such as Zakir Hussain, Sultan Khan and Ronu Majumdar, a stunning flute player. But this is not pure Indian music - it's an entertaining fusion of Gurtu's musical passions with a liberal dose of electronic, sequenced percussion and synthesized textures swirling among the sitars and clay pots.
The title track could be one of the Zawinul Syndicate's more commercial pieces; Expression Of Love has a Giorgio Moroder/ Midnight Express feel with its hustling percussion, sustained synth pads and snatches of speech; Witness to Marriage is sexy and spiritual. Some of Gurtu's tracks are just great tunes, which would be great for daytime radio play if we had a popular station prepared to champion world music. And although I can't imagine Gurtu reaching this stage in his career without his jazz experiences, it's not a jazz album; it's not even just a world music album. Remembrance is simply a great album on anyone's terms.
The European version of Gurtu's Remembrance has 11 tracks; the UK version has 13, adding two "bonus" remixes: Talvin Singh's pumping version of Planet Earth and a nervous Badmarsh & Shri remix of Maya. They're not terrible, as dancefloor remixes go, but they're not wonderful either.
I guess the record company is doing what it thinks best to market this album, but the lack of confidence is disappointing.
Though it's been a good year for world music CDs, I'd say Remembrance was a better "listen" than recent albums by Tony Allen, Kimmo Pohjonen and Los de Abajo and Orchestra Baobab, all of whom feature as nominees in the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music. Gurtu is a nominee in the "Asia-Pacific" section, along with Mahwash and the Ensemble Kaboul from Afghanistan, but he could have easily been nominated for the "boundary crossing" category.
A listen to Wild Serenade (Label Bleu, £14.99) by DuOud, nominated in the "Newcomer" category of the awards, makes the immensity of Gurtu's achievement clear. Gurtu's band play the new Islington Marquee on Sunday November 17, competing with LJF gigs by Juliet Roberts, Oliver Mtukudzi and Bembeya Jazz, Chucho Valdes.