At the beginning of “A World of Sound“, a short film by the David Lynch Foundation about the late great David S. Ware, Ware says: “You know, I am not interested in chord changes … playing chord changes .. I don’t need that. I work on concepts, very subtle ideas.” You must see how he says the word “chord changes”, he pronounces it full of contempt - like “shit”. Trilok Gurtu’s album Spellbound is full of chord changes.
What the album might have been like can be heard at the short snippet recorded live by and with Don Cherry which opens the album – a 30-second-duo-improvisation with Cherry on trumpet and Gurtu on percussion. The rest is – as one of the reviewers on the team mentioned – fusion crap.
Spellbound is a homage to trumpeters (especially to Cherry) and it is moving through originals and pieces by Cherry, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis interpreted by various stars of the scene like Nils Petter Molvaer, Ibrahim Maalouf, Paolo Fresu, Ambrose Akinmusire and others.
But while their playing is sometimes even okay (e.g. Nils Petter Molvaer in the only halfway interesting track “Jack Johnson”) it is the rhythm section which is the problem. The pieces are often caked up with ugly synthesizer and keyboard sounds (and/or with hideous unison bass/trumpet runs and horrible vocal parts) and a hard-to-bear 1980s electric bass (especially bad in the title track). Everything is obvious, there is no subtlety, no concept or surprise. The worst tracks are “Cuckoo” in its cheesy Latin American style, Dizzy Gillepie’s Afro-Cuban classic “Manteca” and finally Don Cherry’s “Cosmic Roundabout/Brown Rice” which is spoilt again by the electric bass and the arrangement in general.
The problem of the album is that it is all about musical skills, there is no soul in any of the tracks (except the Cherry snippet, of course). John Lennon once called such music in a very pejorative voice “muzak”. The means (showing off what great musicians they are) are more important than the end. In an interview Gurtu said that the idea behind this CD was to present a message, he emphasized the spiritual aspect the music should have. I cannot see any message or spirituality here – just chord changes.