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Trilok Gurtu: Stirring the Big Old Pot

By Published: April 27, 2011
AAJ: The title track is dedicated to the mridangam master Palghat Raghu; how did he shape your music?

TG: He was Incredible. He used to really love me and used to tell me I'm the ambassador for south Indian music. I asked him some things and he gave me a lot of tips. He told me to let my music sound simple. But all of the musicians who have played with me say, man, it's easy to listen to but it's hard to play. And this is what I learned from Palghat Raghu.

AAJ: You've increasingly made a name for yourself as a world music musician, but it could be argued that you've done nothing but world music since your first recording of your career, with the Italian band Aktuala. In that band you were playing Moroccan instruments and a whole array of interesting percussion instruments.

TG: Aktuala, yeah, '73. I hope I've improved; I had no instruments, nothing. I just played on anything that was given to me. I learned to play on anything. I learned that the instrument is not all that important, you are very important. What's going on inside you is really important.

AAJ: Do you consider Aktuala an important band in your career?

TG: It was good; it was what it was at that time. Those were hippy days.

AAJ: You moved to America a few years later; how did the move to America pan out?

TG: I went to Berklee and got rejected, so then I went to New York and spent some time there with different musicians in the Village. I was not too happy about the scene in America. It was a productive time but it was just very difficult to understand the mentality. But I still enjoy playing in America.

AAJ: Being rejected by Berklee doesn't seem to have harmed your career, but it must have been disappointing at the time; do s it bother you now?

TG: No, no; they ask me now to come and teach there and do workshops. Thank god I didn't join Berklee. It was a blessing in disguise, actually.

AAJ: Where did you first meet saxophonist Charlie Mariano and trumpeter Don Cherry?

TG: I first met Charlie in India and Don Cherry I met in Italy.

AAJ: You've described Cherry as an even greater innovator than trumpeter Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
; could you elaborate on that a little?

TG: Of course. Miles Davis was a genius for me but think everybody underestimated Don Cherry for what he did with his music. Everybody was so fixed on jazz you see. Don Cherry was using table practically. He was using African music practically. He didn't use it as a fashion.

AAJ: Cherry played on your first solo recording, Usfret and on that album you also employed electronics which had quite an influence on a young generation of musicians in Britain, people like Nitin Sahwney, Talvin Singh and Asian Dub Foundation; it must be quite gratifying to know that your music struck a chord with a younger generation of innovators, no?

TG: I'm really happy; Talvin and Nitin really helped me. They really helped me to reach a big audience. They brought my music to the people. They understood what I was trying to do. The jazz critics had no idea what I was trying to do. They couldn't place it anywhere. Indian music, African music, what is this? If it's not jazz it's not good, it was like that. But Talvin and Nitin really helped me and I'm really thankful to them.

AAJ: Recently you played a duo concert with Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and it's a reminder that jazz is just about everywhere in the world these days, even if the word has arguably ceased to have clear meaning.

TG: I think it was very good marketing at that time, I would say. They call it jazz but everybody plays what they like. Tigran is a very talented musician and he's not only playing jazz. Just because he's improvising doesn't mean it's jazz. It was Armenian-Indian... I don't know what to call it.

AJ: You're working on a very interesting crossover project at the moment, and one that would be difficult to pin a name on; can you tell us a little about this project?

TG: I'm doing a classical project with woodwinds; the music of Bartok and Bach, Takemitsu and Phillip Glass with my music. I'm putting this together now. It's crossover but in a different style with contemporary sounds.

AAJ: That sounds like a potent cocktail.

TG: It is, and I have no idea what you would call it.

AAJ: It doesn't need a name. You play world music festivals, you play jazz festivals, you play classical festivals; do you feel that your music is better accepted, better understood and better appreciated than in the past?

TG: I don't think about that. I just do what I would normally do. I just do it very honestly. Thanks to the blessing of my spiritual guru Ranjit Barat I am not worried, I have no doubts, I am not afraid. If they like it good; if they don't, it's ok. But I will continue to play the way I do and I will not waver.

Selected Discography

Trilok Gurtu with Simon Phillips & NDR Big Band, 21 Spices (Art of Groove, 2011)
Trilok Gurtu, Massical (BHM Productions, 2009)
Trilok Gurtu, Arkeology (Promo, 2007)
Trilok Gurtu & The Frikyiwa Family, (Frikyiwa, 2006)
Trilok Gurtu, Broken Rhythms (Worldmusicnet, 2004)
Robert Miles & Trilok Gurtu, Miles_Gurtu (Salt Records, 2004)
Pharaoh Sanders, With A Heartbeat (Evolver, 2003)
Trilok Gurtu, Remembrance (Emarcy, 2002)
Trilok Gurtu, Beat of Love (Blue Thumb, 2001)
Nitin Sawhney, Prophecy (V2 Records, 2001)
Trilok Gurtu, African Fantasy (Blue Thumb, 2000)
Trilok Gurtu, Kathak (Mintaka, 1999)
Trilok Gurtu, Glimpse (Siva America, 1997)
Joe Zawinul, My People (Escapade, 1996)
John McLaughlin, The Promise (Verve, 1996)
Jan Garbarek, Invisible World (1995, ECM)
Trilok Gurtu, Crazy Saints (CMP. 1993)
John McLaughlin Trio, Que Alegria (Verve, 1992)
Oregon, Always, Never and Forever (Intuition, 1991)
John McLaughlin Trio, Live at The Royal Festival Hall (Polygram records, 1990)
Trilok Gurtu, Usfret (CPM, 1987)
L. Shankar, Song For Everyone (ECM,. 1985)
Philippe Catherine, End of August (WEA, 1978)
Charlie Mariano, October Inner City, 1977)
Aktuala, La Terra (Bla Bla, 1974)

Photo Credits
Page 1: Paolo Iammarrone
Page 2: Courtesy of Trilok Gurtu
Trilok Gurtu
Trilok Gurtu

Page 3, 4: Elio Guidi

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