There seem to be no limits to Trilok Gurtu's explorations into the areas of roots and jazz percussion, and with his latest venture he has delved into the common ground between his native India and that of West Africa. The result is a recording that sounds almost exclusively African.
Gurtu is a master at adding a certain eerie ambience to his albums, and here he manages it by producing trance-like grooves from West African instrumentation (calabash, ngoni, kora and kora wah-wah provide the basic template to most of the songs). Ironically, the one song that he didn’t write (Doukhonto) is the only one that is imbued with the free-form jazz percussion for which he is renowned.
He has teamed up with artists from French producer Fréderic Galliano's excellent Frikyiwa label, people like the Guinean griotte Hadja Kouyaté. She has been immortalised as part of the sublime backing chorus for Salif Keita’s Moffou and M’Bemba recordings, and her singing here ranges from velvety soulful croon to a declamatory shout that falls only marginally short of deserving comparison with the great Tata Bambo Kouyaté.
There is also Ali Boulo Santo from Mali, whose kora lightens the album throughout. He adds his own sedate singing on five of the songs, and is particularly captivating on Mil-Jul where the scratchy sound of the kamélé ngoni gives way to his affecting purr of a voice accompanied by a combination of ethereal instrumentation and some typically atmospheric percussion.
A fascinating selection is completed by a lightly dubbed title track that fades gracefully away into the distance.
Just one small gripe about the packaging: it's all beautifully photographed, but presented in a gatefold sleeve that requires a GCSE in origami to prevent repeated opening from ripping the various component parts. Handle with care.