04 August 2010

Ravi Shankar Looks Back

Ravi Shankar: Nine Decades Vol. 1 1967-1968 (East Meets West Music)

I popped this CD into the stereo on a recent road trip before reading any of the accompanying info or liner notes. I also didn't notice the dates on the cover, so I was expecting something of a selection of Shankar's music over the course of his performing years. You know, like a Rough Guide to Ravi Shankar or something.

My ears were met, however, with a single engaging track, the 48-minute "Raga Gangeshwari," recorded live on the banks of the Ganges near Allahabad in 1968. Shankar's playing is fierce, energetic as the raga builds to a satisfying climax and a rather abrupt ending.

Later, I read up on the CD, and it turns out that this is just the first in a "multi-volume series" under the Nine Decades umbrella, in which Shankar will be hand picking recordings from his archive. The recordings will be re-mastered and released by Shankar's East Meets West Music, and if this first volume is any indication, they will offer a peek back in time at the culture surrounding Shankar's career as well as the music itself.

The Shankar-penned raga opening this CD is followed by 12 minutes of interviews recorded in 1968 in which listeners (mostly Americans) talk about Shankar, his music, and whether they "get" Indian music. It's an interesting slice of cultural history, though it is disconnected in time and place from the raga on the first track and the Vedic chanting of the temple priests (perhaps at the same time and place of the raga recording?) that rounds out the album.

Says Shankar in the liner notes: "The Nine Decades series focuses on live performances, some recorded in public and others recorded in private, at home, so as to give you a glimpse of the life in a raga as it is performed for others. Many of these treasures were not recorded with sophisticated audio equipment and yet they exhibit the power of life in live performances that has a value beyond any technological shortcomings."

If this feels like a rather small piece of cake in celebration of Shankar's 90th year, we can look for the future releases in this series to reveal more layers of the master and his music. More cake!

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