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Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 27th January 2010.

It wasn’t clear in advance what the format of Wednesday’s concert in the GRCH Main Auditorium was going to be. The tickets stated that it was by “Trilok Gurtu Band with special guests Jan Garbarek and Shankar Mahadevan”, and from the Celtic Connections brochure it was clear that folk trio Lau were going to be involved in some way.

I’d half expected Lau to be the support band, but in the event the show opened with the Trilok Gurtu Band by itself: Gurtu on percussion, plus an international line-up of violin (and occasional keyboards), bass, guitar, and keyboards (and occasional tenor sax). They played a  competent sort of world jazz rock – think 70s Miles or the Zawinul Syndicate and you’d be in the right area – without really convincing me that they were more than just session band perfect.

Trilok Gurtu was positioned at the right-hand side of the stage (from the audience’s point of view), with a drumkit in front and to his right, Indian hand-drums to his left, and an assortment of various small percussion instruments behind him. I preferred his percussion playing to his kit drum playing: while he was very good on the latter, his style was slightly-dated jazz-funk fusion drumming rather than jazz playing.

So far so so-so. But the gig sprang to life when the guests came on. First up was Indian singer Shankar Mahadevan. I know next to nothing about Indian music, but apparently he’s active in the film music world there, and has worked with John McLaughlin’s Shakti in the past. Whatever his background, he was superb. He did a couple of songs, then Jan Garbarek came on and did a couple of pieces, then we got Mahadevan and Garbarek together. I’m not really a Jan Garbarek fan – I admire his music more than I like it – but he was on excellent form. His playing had more fire and less ice than I’d expected and made me wish I’d bought a ticket for his concert the next night after all. At this concert he played a lot more tenor than soprano. Mid-concert, Garbarek and Mahadevan left the stage and Lau came on. They played one song with the full band, which didn’t quite gel, and one as a quartet with Trilok Gurtu on percussion which worked much better.

Gurtu then played a solo piece, which featured gongs being lowered into buckets of water, before Garbarek, Mahadevan and the band came back for the rest of the show. The main set finished with Garbarek, Mahadevan and Gurtu trading licks in the style of a good old-fashioned tenor battle.

Overall I thought this was a slightly patchy concert. Gurtu’s band by itself didn’t have the musical personality to really grip the audience, but were excellent when working as a backing group for Mahadevan and Garbarek. The singer and the saxophonist were the stars of the evening.

Kenny Mathieson reviewed the concert for the Scotsman.
Update: And Rob Adams reviewed it for the Herald. Pity their sub couldn’t be bothered to spell Trilok Gurtu’s name right.