What do you expect of an album like “Unexpected Guest” by Toronto Tabla Ensemble? Lots of tablas? A reasonable expectation but perhaps rather more unexpected, and indeed welcome, was the sheer enthusiasm for the task in hand displayed by these musicians and their guests.
This is, of course, something of a masterclass in the persuasive power of percussion yet this is not merely another exercise in cross cultural dance music. For one thing, this album is more a multi-cultural than a cross cultural confluence with a variety of sounds and voices from across the world merging into a single, spiritually uplifting, purpose.
Curiously, for an album so heavily biased towards the beat, the tabla is most successfully used to underpin the other musicians with the best example, to my ears, being the glorious sound of the bagpipes that layers the sound of the glens over the hypnotic rhythms of the primary protagonists. Truly a match made in heaven that was just waiting for that right moment in time to happen. That’s not the only example, for Maryem Hassan Tollar’s voice also finds a joyously supportive platform in “Maryem’s Here”.
It is perhaps a strange thing to say that, after listening to “Unexpected Guest”, the only logical conclusion is that music is best when left in the warm hands of mankind rather than in the cold claws of the machine. Music like this is truly good for the soul.