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Unexpected Guests (LP) by Toronto Tabla Ensemble

Brilliantly endearing to the soul in a way that a lot of other grooves simply aren’t, the beat in “Maryem’s Here,” not unlike the others to be discovered in Unexpected Guests, was made for the percussion lover in all of us. In this songs and its six tracklist neighbors in the new album from Toronto Tabla Ensemble, we’re given up close and personal access to some of the most boldly colorful rhythms of any indie record I’ve come across this summer, but if you think that this masterful performance is dominated by dazzling drumbeats alone, you’d better think again.

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Beyond the beat of songs like “Dream Symposium,” there’s an ominous melodicism that commands over “What’s Going On?,” “Raghupati” and “Monkey Tale” as though ordained by god to do so. There’s a lot of texture for us to explore in all seven of these tracks, and with the superb quality of mixing found throughout Unexpected Guests, there’s scarcely a moment in which we aren’t able to zero-in on a specific detail within the music that catches our attention more than anything else does. It might take a couple of times through to pick up on all of the detail here, but let me tell you, it’s absolutely worth it.

The title track, its music video, and “Dream Symposium” all depend on their tense, somewhat atmospheric backdrop to illustrate emotionality, and in an age when bands aren’t usually up to such a task, it makes Toronto Tabla Ensemble stand out all the more in the crowded talent pool they’re emerging from. This is a group that has been together for more than two decades, and when listening to this latest disc, it undeniably shows; their chemistry is off the charts, but their kinship won’t allow for getting overexcited with any of the different elements in this mix.

“Toronto Tabla Youth Ensemble” and “What’s Going On?” have the heaviest finishes of any songs here, but I think it’s important to notice how little room they have for overindulgence of any sort. Efficiency is a key component when structuring an album as robust yet to the point as this one is, and for Toronto Tabla Ensemble, it’s clearly something that they value more than the status quo would call for. I admire their willingness to continue refining after so many years together, and though I hadn’t heard their work before just recently, their eminence isn’t difficult to distinguish at all.

Deeply engaging but not overdone as so many similarly-stylized records have been in the year 2020, Toronto Tabla Ensemble’s Unexpected Guests is an intriguing effort that is almost certain to leave you feeling refreshed this summer. Depending on where you start in the tracklist and where you ultimately finish, there are a lot of different moods to behold in this collection of songs, but no matter which direction you take your listening session with Unexpected Guests in, I think it would be wise to give this LP a spin and experience its many layers of exoticism for yourself.

John McCall

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