Further adventures in hypercussion.
What is Tabla Beat Science? I had never heard of the group until I received this two-disc set for review. Anyway, this is what the back of the box has to say:
The musical project TABLA BEAT SCIENCE presents the current, definitive world music experience. It is a melding of cultures, combining ancient rhythms and modern audio/visual psychedelia in a way that both references the past and enhances the future.
Whew! Try saying that ten times fast!
Well, it all boils down to one basic thing. This is Indian music, using that staple of all music from that country, the tabla. The tabla is sort of a cross between the bongos and snare drum. It makes a sound not unlike lightly tapping a tin can. The instrument became more famous in the 1960s when The Beatles, courtesy of George Harrison, began using the instrument in several recordings ("Love You To," a Harrison composition that used the tabla, appeared on their 1966 Masterpiece, Revolver). Dave Mason also introduced Indian instruments into rock music when he was a member of Traffic, drenching their debut album Mr. Fantasy (1967) with them. Soon, many bands were using them.
As much as I tried, I just didn't like Tabla Beat Science. I have nothing against Indian music in general. I enjoy Indian music, in particular Ravi Shankar, who taught Harrison and Mason this style of music. So why didn't I like this set?
The ten selections all sounded too similar to one another to be truly distinguishable. But that is the least of their problems. The main problem is that they seem too conscious of melding cultures together; in other words, weaving different musical styles into one sound. Doing the latter can be a tricky thing, but when done well, as the Beatles and Traffic did, and as Santana did with their first three albums, the listener shouldn't be aware that there are different styles at work. The listener should instead just absorb the music without any awareness of the ingredients at work.
Another problem is that the concert is annoyingly filmed. Far too many close-ups are used. The best concert films (Gimme Shelter, Woodstock, Mad Dogs and Englishmen) remember that while close-ups are nice, what is more important is to capture the feel of a live performance. That means to not only give us a front row seat, but to also give us the musicians' perspective.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent. By spreading the concert over two discs, they have avoided the compression problems that often plague concert discs. For a concert that was shot on digital video, there is very little grain present. Colors also look surprisingly sharp and vivid considering the source.
As for sound mixes, you have your choice of either DTS 5.1 Surround or Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Whichever one you decide to use, you will be pleased by the superb quality of these tracks. The music is divided into five channels, which is extremely important. Indian music is notable for how each instrument is treated as a separate personality. By designating channels for certain instruments, it not only gives you the feel of a live performance but it helps reinforce the music itself.
Extras include MP3s of several Tabla Beat Science tunes. If you liked the concert, you will enjoy these. Bonus footage including an extra tune and a press conference announcing the tour is interesting for fans, but regular joes will be bored. A multi-angle option allows you to experience the concert from different angles. Believe me when I say that one angle is more than enough for this concert.
Die-hard fans will want to own this set. But for casual viewers, Tabla Beat Science is one science lesson you can afford to skip.
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