Autorickshaw, the critically acclaimed, world-touring Toronto group is reconnecting with its early band roots in its 15th anniversary season. Its previous album The Humours of Autorickshaw was enriched by more than a dozen musicians appearing in complex studio mixes. On Meter, Autorickshaw returns to its core: Suba Sankaran (voice, percussion), Ed Hanley (tabla, vocal and other percussion) and Dylan Bell (bass, voice, vocal drums, keyboards).
Meter serves up new compositions by each member as well as works by other Toronto musicians. Covers are again a feature here: Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street, Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard and perhaps most surprisingly, the traditional Francophone J’entends le Moulin, all get the Autorickshaw treatment. The short but delightful Thom Petti by Suba Sankaran begins with the phrase “ta-thom, thom-ta,” derived from Carnatic (South India) solkattu (onomatopoetic drum syllables) as vocalized by all three musicians. These phrases echo the percussive clickety-clack of a long train ride though India with its track gaps, curves and straightaways, heard as superimpositions of several rhythmic feels. The addition of a harmonically rich vocalized chord – imitating a passing train horn – adds sparkle to the onomatopoeic fun.
Another musically outstanding moment comes halfway through the song The Trouble with Hari, composed by Toronto jazz veteran Gordon Sheard. Bell’s electric bass joins Sankaran’s jazz-inflected scatting, Carnatic solkattus and sargams (solfège recitation) in exact melodic coupling, call-response and harmonic comping. It’s a sterling example of the kind of inspired border-crisscrossing musical experience the album offers listeners up for adventure.