Some of the stodgier individuals in the jazz world labor under the delusion that a big-band project is not legitimate unless it sounds like something Buddy Rich would have done in the '50s and is full of overdone warhorse standards that have been recorded by literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different artists over the years. But thankfully, not everyone in jazz sees things that way. 21 Spices, in fact, takes big-band music into both the jazz-rock fusion realm and the world jazz realm. This 2011 release is a collaboration between Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu (who composed all of the material), drummer Simon Phillips, and Germany's NDR Big Band; also on board are Michel Alibo on electric bass and Roland Cabezas on electric guitar. And with this lineup in place, the result is a fusion album that has a strong world music influence and sounds a bit Weather Report-ish in spots, only with the muscular horn section that the NDR Big Band brings to the table. Naturally, Gurtu's mastery of Indian percussion and the wordless, Indian-style scat vocals that the Mumbai native provides gives 21 Spices (which contains both live and studio performances) some Indian appeal at times, but Indian music is hardly the only world music influence that asserts itself on this 55-minute CD. Actually, Latin music is a more prominent influence, especially on "Broken Rhythms" and "1-2 Beaucoup." Meanwhile, "Balato" and "Jhulelal" both incorporate elements of African music. So in terms of world music influences, 21 Spices is pleasingly far-reaching. And it is also an exciting demonstration of the fact that regardless of what bop snobs have to say, big-band recordings don't have to recycle old Buddy Rich charts in order to have validity.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson