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On The Corner Masthead


April 17, 2017 | by Rusty Aceves

Trilok Gurtu

Here are five things you should know about the Indian rhythm master Trilok Gurtu.

  1. He pioneered a hybrid combination of the Western drumset with Indian tabla and percussion, often playing in a half-kneeling position and using a combination of his fingers, sticks, and mallets on both conventional percussion and improvised instruments including buckets and swords. One signature effect he employs is to dip cymbals, small gongs, and strings of bells into containers of water to change their pitch as he plays 
  2. He began on tabla as a youth, and picked up the drum set in the 1970s, inspired by rock music he heard on the radio before discovering jazz. He didn’t initially conceive of the idea of studio “overdubbing” on recordings he heard, so he believed the playing of multiple parts simultaneously was how he should approach the instrument. This is how he developed his remarkable level of dexterity and limb independence 
  3. He began performing in the 1970s with a number of noted Eastern musicians and jazz artists including trumpeter Don Cherry, saxophonist John Tchicai, vibraphonist Karl Berger, and guitarist Terje Rypdal. He has since worked with pianist and Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and world-fusion band Oregon, in addition to dozens of others 
  4. Gurtu began a lengthy collaboration with guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin in the 1980s, working in a trio with either Bay Area-based bassist Kai Eckhardt or Swedish bassist Jonas Hellborg. The band toured the world extensively, opening dates for Miles Davis in 1988. 
  5. Gurtu has recorded 20 albums as a leader or co-leader with guests including Pat Metheny, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, and was a part of bassist and producer Bill Laswell’s Tabla Beat Scienceproject with fellow Season 5 artist Karsh Kale. That project recorded a live album at San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival in 2001.

Here's Gurtu with John McLaughlin and Kai Eckhardt in 1989:


And with Joe Zawinul in 1994: