Review: Trilok Gurtu & Evelyn Glennie

First published in the Guardian on 3 February, 2017

This was a one-off Celtic Connections commission to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and featuring the first formal collaboration between Scotland’s Evelyn Glennie and India’s Trilok Gurtu, two of the world’s most famous percussionists. The programme — called The Rhythm In Me — was partly improvised, partly reworkings of existing material by Glennie and Gurtu, and had been devised via Skype then rehearsed a day before the concert. It sounded accordingly: a kind of meandering east-meets-west scratch project injected with signifiers of meaningfulness (Glennie opened and closed with heartfelt voice-over readings of Rabindranath Tagore’s Where The Mind Is Without Fear and Robert Burns’s A Man’s A Man) and saved by flashes of genuine conviviality and flair.

Before the event I’d have been reluctant to put money on which of the two sizeable stage personas would win out. Glennie can summon a potent aura when she wants to, but this was unequivocally Gurtu’s show. Long minutes passed while he soloed on tabla and Western kit — virtuosically, grandiosely — and it was his nifty direction of the audience participation encore that lent a feel-good glow to proceedings. “We are one,” he told us at the end, and got a standing ovation.

Both percussionists had brought along regular collaborators (pianist Philip Smith and Carnatic violinist Kumaresh Rajagopalan) and the ensemble numbers roamed from knotted Shostakovich pastiches to dodgy fusion jams to post-minimalist riffs around bright-coloured musical building blocks. Glennie’s vibraphone playing was warm and supple, a welcome layer of subtlety in the mix, while a passage from Gurtu on an amplified bucket of water provided some of the evening’s most interesting sounds — into the water went a cymbal, some bells, a mallet. The most touching moment was a stripped-back duet for bass kalimba, Glennie and Gurtu sitting side-by-side on the floor and both suddenly illuminated with childlike enthusiasm. More of that and less of the stock bombast would have come as a relief.