REVIEW: Toronto Tabla Ensemble — For The Love of Tabla (LP)
Ritesh Das first founded the Toronto Tabla Ensemble in 1991 as a musical cultural ambassador for the Indian community in Canada. It has blossomed into so much more. Those humble beginnings transformed into a school, an acclaimed youth ensemble, and even a burgeoning interest in films. A series of musical releases over the years has served as one of the organization’s income sources while also achieving consistently high musical standards.
The Ensemble’s new album For the Love of Tabla reaffirms the musical values they have promoted for over three decades while still casting a wide eye toward the future. There’s an ear and eyepopping mix of musical approaches heard throughout this collection, but Indian classical music remains its foundational element.
The Toronto Tabla Ensemble, however, never views the music like a butterfly pinned under glass. Strings and woodwinds play an important role throughout the album and the first track “Jovano Jovanke” makes great use of the former. Some may not assume that the combination of table percussion along with strings would work, but even one hearing of this song will convince all but the deaf. “Prayer for the Mother” is a song the Ensemble should be shouting about from the rooftops as it constitutes the fullest expression of the project’s artistic gifts. That’s high praise, but true. Songs with such subjects clearly risk sounding sentimental and heavy-handed but moves like keying the lead vocal so closely to the table and allowing the singing to unleash itself in full puts “Prayer for the Mother” over the top.
It sounds like there is slight post-production phasing laid over the drums opening “Spellcheck” and it gives it a light exotic quality. Many listeners will love how the Ensemble layers the percussion, adding more, backing off, and those who love such instrumentals will swoon over this performance. Ritesh Das’ scat vocals through “Summer 2020” won’t appeal to every listener. Some will hear it as too remote from their frame of reference, but those who give it a chance will hear the subtle rhythms and inflections present in his performance.
“Burning Sky” is another track certain to garner admiration from many quarters. The subtle orchestration driving this piece, as others, testifies to the outstanding arranging talents of the musicians involved. It isn’t an especially long track but will definitely satisfy even the strictest of music admirers. There’s a slightly ominous feel pervading the track at some points that helps set it apart. Vocals and music working together reaches the album’s highest peak in its final moments. “Shyama Sundara” has an expansive feel that the singing strengthens, and the energy of this performance makes it a perfect way to send listeners out.
Let us hope the album and organization enjoy the success they richly deserve. For the Love of Tabla burns with genuine passion without ever striking any sort of abrasive note and encourages listeners to keep coming back for more. Give the Toronto Tabla Ensemble a chance and it is a virtual lock you will.