june 2012

ravi shankar
Ravi Shankar: ‘For me, the tracks illustrate the depths and beauty of Indian classical music, which can evoke a range of emotional intensity through energetic and complicated rhythmic patterns.’

Majesty In the Living Room

Ravi Shankar’s The Living Room Sessions Part 1 is the happiest of recording accidents…

In one of the happiest accidents in recent recording history, 91-year-old sitar master Ravi Shankar and his friend Tanmoy Bose (tabla) had the presence of mind to record what both men thought was going to be an informal day of music making at Shankar’s house in Encinitas, California. Instead, the day becomes a master class in the Indian classical music Shankar brought to the world’s attention after the Beatles—and most especially George Harrison—discovered and promoted him to the western world in the late ‘60s.

ravi shankar living roomIn the course of an afternoon Shankar and Bose, with Kenji Ota on treble tanpura and Barry Phillips on bass tanpura, recorded seven ragas, four of which comprise a stirring new release on Shankar’s own East Meets West label, titled The Living Room Sessions Part 1. These brief ragas emanate qualities of intimacy, repose and reflection, with Shankar playing the notes delicately, the better to emphasize the interior quality the melodies suggest. Bose's rhythmic virtuosity is tempered to match Shankar's romantic, lyrical inventions, particularly on “Raga Khamaj,” an evening piece. For many western listeners the clear highlight is going to be the final raga, ‘Raga Satyajit,” The last work dates to 1992, when Shankar heard of the death his friend, the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and composed this noble tribute to a fellow master, balancing mournful passages with soaring, life affirming exultations. Like the other three ragas here, ‘Raga Satyajit” has a deeply spiritual quality about it, in the intense communication between the musicians and certainly in the sense of the music reaching for exalted feelings and higher ground.

In his own notes, Shankar explains the genesis and evolution of The Living Room Sessions: "This is rather different recording when, at almost 92 years, I was fooling around at home at Encinitas, California with my sitar, playing pieces with Tanmoy Bose on tabla. We recorded seven ragas in four days in my living room and had a lot of fun. This disc has four of those ragas--the first one, Raga Malgunji has both a slow Vilambit gat and a display in Jhaptal of ten beats in complicated, rhythmic patterns and finishes that conveys the sadness of being unable to merge with the Supreme. The second and third ragas, Raga Khamaj and Raga Kedara, are in the romantic Thumri style. The final number is a spontaneous, melodic pattern that came to my mind, when I was told about the death of my dear friend Satyajit Ray. For me, the tracks illustrate the depths and beauty of Indian classical music, which can evoke a range of emotional intensity through energetic and complicated rhythmic patterns. I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I did when I recorded it!"

Also, Shankar recently received a Grammy Foundation grant that will fund a project designed to preserve, digitize, catalogue and provide access to his recordings.

Critical reception of The Living Room Sessions Part 1 has been universally positive. A sampling follows.

Ravi Shankar in concert with daughter Anoushka Shankar, with Tanmoy Bose on table. At Santa Cruz 2007


‘…a mood of relaxed intimacy between soloist and accompanist’

…the four tracks on this disc lack absolutely nothing in the way of musical virtuosity, technical brilliance and the kind of high-energy passion that belongs in concert performances. All while affording listeners the added fly-on-the wall feeling, making them privy to a mood of relaxed intimacy between soloist and accompanist.

The recording features four relatively brief but immensely engaging tracks, starting with “Raga Malgunji,” immediately drawing one into a world of bittersweet longing; Shankar delivers it with a restraint that can only be the hallmark of an old pro. This is followed by a short, tentative introduction to the exuberant “Raga Khamaj,” a regular of Shankar's repertoire and one that became something of a signature tune in those heady days of the ‘60s. “Raga Kedara” is definitely a high point, especially when both musicians launch into a fluid, overtly lyrical version of this evening raga, followed by a complete change of mood on the final track, “Raga Satyajit,” named after Shankar's close friend, the late filmmaker Satyajit Ray. In keeping with the feel of a Ray film, the piece begins with a solemn dirge and gradually builds up to a spontaneous, easy-flowing array of emotions. It leaves one anxious for more; the second part is due in autumn 2012. --by Jameela Siddiqi

Posted at the Songlines Blog, June 18, 2012


'...classic form, function and art'

Ravi Shankar sat in his living room in California about a year ago composing--noodling? jamming?--on his sitar with an old friend, Tanmoy Bose, on tabla. Over a period of four days, they recorded seven ragas, with Kenji Ota on treble tanpura and Barry Phillips on bass tanpura. This volume contains four of those works. This sampling would make a great introduction to the work of a master for someone you're turning on to music that doesn't move in half and whole steps or standard scales. Shankar is always, always creating and this CD is a survey of Indian classical forms. Beginning with the philosophical “Raga Malgunji,” which considers how near or far the Divine may be to we earthbound creatures to the wee “Raga Kedara,” composed in Thumri, there is so much to enjoy in this album. If you are not yet collecting the East Meets West Music series, this recording is truly a gateway to another world.

What does the music sound like? There are movements, as Western music has movements, but the timing, as well as the notes themselves, do not correspond to the familiar. There is improvisation and a very close connection among the musicians. In many ways it is like exploring a house in a dream--parts of it seem like places you may have lived before and other parts of it are completely exotic. This is not Tin Pan Alley fare, ground out to a formula; this is classic form, function and art. --by Sherri Rase 

Posted a Q Onstage

Excerpt from Raga Mishra Kafi. Ravi and Anoushka Shankar 2003 Salisbury Cathedral, Birmingham UK. In concert with Tanmoy Bose and Bickram Ghosh (table), Nick Able and Alan Kozlowski (tanpura). Recorded by Nick Roylence from Genesis in London with direction by Alan Kozlowski


'He transcends the mundane world. Every note has meaning.'

And so here we stand from a vantage point of nearly 50 years on. Ravi Shankar lives, his influence and stature undiminished, and at nearly 92 years of age, performs a number of ragas in the informal environment of his living room, joined by his tabla accompanist Tanmoy Bose.

The fruits of those several days of playing and recording have become available to us, the first half of it anyway, in the new release The Living Room Sessions Part 1.

What we have is Ravi in a relaxed setting, exploring four ragas, mostly in medium tempo, finding something new to say after so many years. One of the ragas, “Raga Satyajit,” is of Pandit Shankar's own invention, inspired by the feelings and thoughts experienced when he heard of the death of the great film-maker and his close friend Satyajit Ray. The other three ragas are traditional, two performed in lighthearted Thumri style, the other featuring a Japthal in ten beats.

We have in this moving near hour of music Ravi Shankar in a profound musical state. His playing is paired down from the extreme virtuosity of his earlier days. He instead concentrates on the subtleties of nuance and phrasing of the middle movements of a typical raga performance. He shows the sort of depth of feeling and devotion to sound perhaps only someone who has played so exceptionally well and gotten so thoroughly inside the musical forms of the Hindustani traditions can do. He transcends the mundane world. Every note has meaning. --by Grego Applegate Edwards

Posted at Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog, May 10, 2012.

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