Tabla Beat Science: Audiomaze




Tabla Beat Science


Tala Matrix (Axiom Records 2046)

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Bill Laswell (bass, sound construction), Zakir Hussain (tabla).

Composed by Zakir Hussain and Bill Laswell


Recorded: London, Köln and West Orange, NJ, no date given (CD released in 2000)


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

In Western music we have come to view the percussionist as providing accompaniment. The "serious music" repertoire (note: quotation marks indicate a quizzical tone in my voice) often dispenses entirely with percussion, and even commercial acts tend to hide the drummer at the back of the bandstand. Indeed, it is almost a truism among know-it-alls in the music world that you never let a drummer lead the band (although this is usually whispered out of earshot of the guy with the sticks in his hands).

But all this is an aberration, a quirk of history. I have discussed elsewhere the sociological reasons for the marginalization of percussion in Western music. Yet you don't need to take it from me, just open your ears. Even today, many traditional styles of music show us the limitations of our Western idealization of harmony—both as a technique and as a metaphor—revealing the power that is unleashed when the beat reigns as the master of the music, from which everything else radiates.

Bill Laswell may be a bassist (among other things), but he understands the power of percussion in a way that few others do. He has demonstrated this sensibility in a number of recordings, but especially with Tabla Beat Science, the group he formed with Zakir Hussain in 1999. The marriage of electronica with tabla may sound like an edgy concept, but this music exists at the center not the edges. Hussain's tabla grounds everything. It is not just the heartbeat of the band; it is the whole cardiovascular system. (It helps that the tabla is recorded with great presence in the mix.) Laswell's contributions here—switched-on sounds from the electronics factory—fit perfectly, as natural in juxtaposition as sparks accompanying a flame. In a music world that hypes so many phony fusions, this one stands out.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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