Music Reviews

Tabla Beat Science

Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove

Axiom / Palm Pictures

Oxymoron: great understatement. Well, here are two: “Man, that was some bomb they dropped on Hiroshima” and “Boy, this is a great album.” For Live in San Francisco… is not simply a great album, it is simply superlative. For years to come, when people will be looking for South Asian fusion, they will be looking to this double CD. But would you expect anything less from Bill Laswell.

Water seeks its own level, and Laswell, once again, has assembled greatness around him. Only the best will do, and that is exactly what you get here. Zakir Hussain is simply a dervish on tabla; Gigi and Ustad Sultan Khan sing beautifully together; and Karsh Kale puts in a surprising performance on the skins (I had no clue what a good rock drummer he was). It is his astonishing performance that really makes this disc. His mad duet with Hussain on “Sacred Channel” is a percussive nightmare that leads to breathless flashbacks. DJ Disk makes an insane wrist-flipping cameo, giving a turntablist clinic on “Tala Matrix.” Midival Punditz also show up for two songs, “Ap Ke Baras” (where Kale puts on another display) and the perfectly menacing “Trajic.” And, of course, what would a Laswell project be without the dub? On “Magnetic Dub” his throbbing bass meshes perfectly with Khan’s wailing sarangi and mournful vocals to help us realize the heavenly meeting of Ravi Shankar and King Tubby. Full of Fela-length jams, this musical collage will leave you bedazzled in its vibrant textures, depths, and tones. This is truly an experience that even the lobotomized would find hard to forget.

Axiom Records: • Palm Pictures: • Tabla Beat Science:

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