Disc one: 1/ Taaruf (Hussain,Khan) 16.07 2/ Sacred Channel (Hussain,Kale,Laswell) 7.29 3/ Nafeken (Shibabaw) 7.42 4/ Ap Ke Baras (Raiana,Raj) 5.06 5/ Magnetic Dub (Hussain,Laswell,Khan) 15.37 Disc two: 1/ Satellite (Show Me the Worth of the World) (Kale,Shibabaw) 8.48 2/ Tala Matrix (Quintanilla,Hussain) 9.20 3/ Trajic (Raiana,Raj) 6.51 4/ Mengedegna (Shibabaw) 14.27 5/ Devotional Dub (Hussain,Laswell,Khan) 9.48 Recorded at Stern Grove, San Francisco, August 12, 2001 Created at Orange Music, West Orange, New Jersey Engineer at Stern Grove: Oz Fritz Assistant at Stern Grove: Tony Brooke/Silent Way Engineer at Orange Music: Robert Musso Assistant at Orange Music: James Dellatacoma Mix Translation: Bill Laswell Mastered by Michael Fossemnkemper at Turtle Tone StudiosZakir Hussain: tabla; Ustad Sultan Khan: sarangi, vocal; Karsh Kale: drums, tabla; Bill Laswell: bass; Eligayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw: vocals; DJ Disk: turntable; Midival Punditz: laptop, electronics; Fabian Alsultany: synthesizers.
2002 - Palm Pictures (USA), PALMCD2084-2 (2CD)
In addition to Hussein and Laswell, Tabla Beat Science features Indian sarangi (bowed stringed instrument) master Ustad Sultan Khan, Ethiopian-born singer Gigi Shibabaw, Brooklyn-based drummer Karsh Kale, Bay Area turntablist DJ Disc and Delhi-based DJ/production duo Midival Punditz. In lesser hands, such a mixture of genres, generations and textures would be a pretentious mess. As it is, "Live in San Francisco" is full and warm, clean and simple, integrated at the molecular level and instinctive rather than intellectual. While in Japan this April, Laswell said of the event: "It was one of those things where everything worked. It was one of those shows where you know it's right the whole time."
"Taaruf," a duet between Sultan Khan and Zakir Hussein, ignites the show. The piece grounds listeners in the Indian traditions of melody and improvisation on which much of the day's music was based. Sixteen minutes later, Laswell's molten bass wells up from the earth's core, drummer Kale drops in and the band kicks off "Sacred Channel," a tune that musically is centuries away from "Taaruf," and yet the transition is so natural it feels inevitable. Hussein in particular navigates the change with ease. Commenting appreciatively on his playing, Laswell said, "Zakir was showing off -- it was tremendous, incredible shit."
On virtually every tune on this double album, the band casually inhabits -- or creates -- a different genre of music. On "Nafeken," Gigi sings passionately in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, while Sultan Khan intones behind her in his own language. Driving the tune mercilessly, the band is a blur of percussion and an alternately looping and atmospheric bass. Following that, "Ap Ke Baras" is a morphing trance-like ball of energy, again propelled by the three-man rhythm section acting as one. For "Magnetic Dub," which is charged with Sultan Khan's most inspired singing of the day, the band ecstatically vibrates at their own frequencies while moving in a shared direction, firmly grounded by a dubbed-out bass line until that, too, detaches and, with the rest of the band, reaches further and further.
And that's just the first set.
Tom Bojko (courtesy of theJapan Times)
Imagine you were having a dinner party and invited six or seven of your closest friends, each of whom is considered a master in their respective field. Let's say that throughout the night you introduced topics of conversation you knew would be of mutual interest to everyone, and you recorded the interchanges between these great minds for posterity's sake. No offense, but the results couldn't possibly be any more intriguing than this two-CD set, which is essentially the result of just such an experiment. Only in this case, the host is legendary bassist/mega-producer Bill Laswell, his friends rank among the world's greatest musicians, and the dialogue comes in the form of largely improvised cross-cultural collaborations between them. Don't let "Taaruf," the transcendent opening epic featuring tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and vocalist/sarangi master Ustad Sultan Khan, scare you: though the song's 16-minute length might put off those with short attention spans, it's an excellent appetizer for the stylistic smorgasbord that awaits. The following track, "Sacred Channel," adds Karsh Kale's jazz-rock drumming and Laswell's dub-influenced bass lines to the mix, while "Nafekefi" features dynamic vocalist Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw. By the end of the first CD, turntablist DJ Disk and electronic experimentalists Midival Punditz and Fabian Alsultany have entered the fray, and the songs have covered ground ranging from Indian classical and Ethiopian pop to funk, hip-hop, and drum'n'bass. It's an eclectic sound, to be sure, but if genre-defying, boundary-breaking music is your bag, Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove does it better than any live album since Miles Davis' electric period.
Bret Love (courtesy of All Music Guide website)
This is a recording of a concert that took place on 12 August 2001, in front of approximately 12,000 people in San Francisco's Stern Grove Park. I wasn't there, but my friend was -- he said it was shitty and boring and ill-mixed. All I have to go on is this 100-minute album, which is probably the third-greatest live album I have ever heard in my entire life.
And the first two are the two James Brown Live at the Apollo albums, the one from 1962 and the one from 1967. So I ain't just whistlin' Dixie, here.
I love live albums. That's not a very fashionable thing to say -- critics are supposed to decry live recordings, along the lines of "If you're not actually there, there's nothing to them, unless it's by James Brown or Bob Dylan or Miles Davis, in which case it was cool." But for me, live records don't have to be perfect to be great, and don't have to be well-recorded to rock; one of the best live recordings I've ever heard was the worst-sounding, a piece of sludgy genius on a ROIR cassette catching Television at their pile-driving best. And let's just be honest: a live album ain't a live album unless it's a double album.
So maybe I'm predisposed to liking this record on that basis, and maybe I'm on its case because of the concept: get together American multi-culti rhythm section studs Bill Laswell on bass and Karsh Kale on drums together with Indian master percussionist Zakir Hussain, throw in some of the greatest older world-beat musicians in the world with a couple up-and-coming stars, rehearse for a couple of days, and then go blow the hell up with all their styles coming together perfectly. These three did this with the Tala Matrix disc of 2000, roping in collaboraters from Trilok Gurtu to Talvin Singh, but would it work live?
I can go either way on Laswell -- he makes about a bazillion records a year, and sometimes quality control is an issue -- but as a big Karsh fan (his debut Realize was one of 2001's best albums), and as someone who digs a lot of Indian and Pakistani dance/fusion stuff, it was almost as if someone went out and made an album just for me personally.
If that's the case, then apparently I have no problem with starting a live album with a 16-minute instrumental duet between a tabla player and a sarangi player. This is not your usual raga-muffin stylee, however, but a true meditative duet, an improvised wail on the sarangi (sounds like a synthesized sitar, but not even plugged in) backed, and sometimes led, by Hussain's amazing tabla pounding. The rhythm of "Taarul" speeds up and slows down at seemingly random interviews, making this sound just like an avant-garde drum'n'bass performance with a guest spot by Adrian Belew on guitar . . . except what it really is is a spontaneous jam between two guys who really know their shit. Hundreds of years in the making, this-but it's vital.
And it turns even more vital when the real live drums and bass kick in at the 16:18 mark and everything turns into a bustingly brisk version of "Secret Channel" off the Tala Matrix album, now titled "Sacred Channel". The ensemble, now expanded to four members, stomps and kicks its way through this track like Frankenstein's Monster at the high school hop-Laswell's bass sounds bigger than Tony Levin's stick booms on Peter Gabriel's Plays Live, Kale's drum work shows snatches of everything from jazz fills to electronic-derived madness, and Khan and Hussain do some solo and ensemble work that just simply cannot be believed. It's sick, it's that good.
The next track is "Nafekeń", a piece written and sung by Ethiopian vocalist (deep breath now) Ejigayehu Shibabaw, also known as Gigi. Palm Pictures released her debut last year (heavy assistance from Karsh Kale on that one), but it didn't really suggest that she'd be so amazing live. This piece is a duet with Khan; her pure clear voice is clear and pure, and works well against his rough devotional wail. At first you might find it strange how similar Ethiopian and Indian vocal styles can be, but there really shouldn't be any mystery -- these two cultures have been trading and borrowing traditions from each other for close to 3,000 years. (I've been watching the Discovery Channel.) The band cooks up a low-key stew behind them and lets them go, momentum building slowly all the while, for a glorious 7:42.
Gigi and Khan duet twice on this album's second disc. The first is "Satellite", a song that first saw the light of day on Kale's album Realize but is now beefed up with some fiery stuff by Hussain and the fire that only a live band can bring. The second, the epic "Mengedegna," is a jaw-dropping performance. Two minutes of tabla and sarangi are followed by 12 and a half minutes of international jam, with Laswell scorching the bottom of the earth on bass, SF turntablist DJ Disk (a founding member of Invisibl Skratch Picklz) cutting at just the right time and not too much, and some sweeping swooping synth lines from Fabian Alsultany. Khan really goes off here several times, jumping his intensity up into qawwali-style ululation, and stakes a strong claim as The Best Unknown Singer in the World. Not a lot of harmonic shifts, but at this point you've been listening for 75 minutes and you just don't care.
I'd say the highlight of the album is probably "Tala Matrix", DJ Disk's feature. This is quite simply the most impressive live scratching display I've ever heard. It's not "turntablism", per se, but just plain simple master-class level scratchin'. But that is precisely what makes it so special; not only does Disk manage to construct an entire piece out of one harsh sound manipulated many different ways, but the whole thing turns into a double-barrelled Concerto for Manipulated Record and Curry-Flavored Funk Band. Disk's interplay with the other musicians is startling, especially in the light of Laswell's claims that there were no overdubs on this record. Seriously? Well, I guess I believe him -- but everyone sounds so good, so tight, so perfect here that it's hard to realize that they're not even a regular band, and that this was kind of a one-off performance.
Who else is in the house? Why, Midival Punditz are, of course. These two guys are Bombay-based DJs, and they have one track per disc here. "Trajic", off Disc Two, is probably the winner, as it incorporates more ideas and more of the rest of the band than Disc One's "Ap Ke Baras", but both are truly mighty and serve as a hell of a coming-out party for this electronic outfit. I don't know how anyone can hear the slow burn of "Trajic", punctuated as it is by car-crash synth lines and angry cowbell tabla and some spy-movie scratching and something that appears to be a tympani, without wanting to anoint these two as New Techno Outfit to Watch 2002. Their first album is supposed to be out on Six Degrees Records later this year, and I've already called dibs.
There are also two selections here where Laswell and his reggae obsession takes over. "Magnetic Dub" closes out Disc One in fine style, nearly 16 minutes of deep-end dirge that busts out every minute or so into free-form freak-out, with some of Khan's most Hendrix-like sarangi work butting heads with the rhythm section, who can't seem to decide if they're Sly and Robbie or Squarepusher. There's also what passes for a drum solo, Hussain giving us the fastest tabla exhibition I've ever heard. (Can't be a double-live album without a drum solo, dude.)
But it is "Devotional Dub", the last song of the concert, that makes this album my #2 live thing ever. It's an old-fashioned new-fangled jam session, slow and intense, with everyone getting their chance to contribute to this new version of the Tala Matrix track. You hear everyone throwing ideas around like engineers at a brainstorming session, taking the song apart and building it back up, and going out in a blaze of glory. Jesus, it's just majestic and pretty and cool -- it's also the most rock and roll thing I've heard this year. Could this concert, this band, be saving the idea of the true rock band? Listen and find out, man. Don't get left behind.
Matt Cibula (courtesy of the PopMatters website)
Two years ago this thing called Tabla Beat Science came our way from the Bill Laswell crew, and Tala Matrix was a sure sign that Laswell had not lost it after a few severe disasters. It brought together four formidable tabla masters (and more) for a hypnotic wash of sound.
Bringing computer production together with Indian music was a great idea. But Laswell's long been a fan of mice, buttons, and knobs... so a live record from a similar group arrived this year with some trepidation.
The 2-CD set Live in San Francisco proves to the world that this unusual combination of East and West very much belongs in the realm of live performance. Before proceeding, a bit about ragas for the uninitiated: there are hundreds, and each one has a core rhythm that every player must respect. This is the tala, which can span time signatures into outer space (as well as the more usual 4/4, used here). Tabla player Zakir Hussain (who's gladly been very active lately in recording lately) takes the lead position in this group, which also includes Ustad Sultan Khan. Khan's message: never neglect the sarangi (a string instrument), which intertwines with the tabla like a snake to network the tala. Interestingly, his vocals often function in much the same way. The rest follows naturally: an extended improvised elaboration of melodic themes, each player pushing the others.
At moments this music is entirely south Asian, and at others it's more American. The concept of Tabla Beat Science is to blend the two sensibilities, in a way that makes them sound like they have been melting together for decades. At the center--and this is crucial--is improvisation. This feeling becomes perfectly clear on the second disc when "Gigi" Shibabaw joins Sultan Khan in a vocal interchange that trades American lyrics with devotional vocals, and it works. Now it must be said that Laswell did do some tinkering, but the source material comes through loud and clear. Tablas, sarangi, vocals--together with synthesizers, electronics, and turntables. The mood throughout the hour and half of Live in San Francisco remains one of elation: gentle, propulsive, and revelatory. It's hard to make that combination work, so hats off to the group. (We could have done with a little less of Laswell's robotic bass; and a better turntablist would have helped, but those flaws are small dots in the big picture.)
Five stars regardless.
Nils Jacobson (courtesy of the All About Jazz website)
A fusion of classical Indian music, African vocalese, breakbeats, and electronica? Sounds cumbersome, but in the hands of this group of musicians headed by Zakir Hussain, master of the tabla -- a single-headed Indian drum -- and bassist/producer Bill Laswell, it's actually seamless. Indian music that incorporates modern pop influences is nothing new -- remember Cornershop? -- but it's not been done before on such an expansive canvas.
Hussain's the son of Ustad Alla Rakha, longtime Ravi Shankar sideman and bossman of the modern tabla. Laswell's the Lower Manhattan underground stalwart who produced Herbie Hancock's hip-hop hit "Rockit." The two first blended the sound of the tabla with modern beats and electronics on 2000's Tala Matrix. This double c.d. set is drawn from an August 2001 show where the group performed expanded versions of three of the Tala Matrix pieces, as well as new material.
Laswell's always been inspired by the dark, pulsing groove of '70s-era Miles Davis, and some of the music here has that vibe. However, there are other elements that give it a more open, organic feel: the sinuous sound of Ustad Sultan Khan's sarangi (a kind of bowed lute) and the haunting vocals of Ethiopian vocalist Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw with Sultan Khan. On the second disc, Bay Area turntablist DJ Disk cuts his way across the mix, while the Indian production duo Midival Punditz adds cinematic atmosphere, as on "Trajic."
This set is definitely recommended for the adventurous only -- world-beat aficionados and electronica fans with a taste for something different. In particular, the attention-challenged might be put off by the opening "Taarul," a 16-minute traditional Indian duet between Hussain and Sultan Khan. But for those with ears wide enough to hear it, Tabla Beat Science is an intriguing, scintillating listen.
Ken Shimamoto (courtesy of the Fort Worth Weekly website)