Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan, |
If you don't have the patience to sit through a composition ranging from 16 to 23 minutes, then perhaps Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan's Gayaki Ang isn't for you. However, if you know that a raga is always good for experimenting with the elasticity of time during a nice, relaxing evening at home, then certainly give it a twirl.
Although much raga music comes to us through live performances, Gayaki Ang was recorded at the Felmay studio in Torino, Italy, so it is a crisp, clean recording. Though a certain measure of intimacy is noticeable, because it wasn't performed in front of a live audience, it is quite possible the ragas lack some spontaneity.
The first track, "Raga Kem -- Alap," is in no hurry to get anywhere. Intended as a nighttime raga, the initial tone set is one of romantic serenity with former Grammy-nominee Husain Kham strumming away on sitar. Though he hastens his pace (in an almost spiraling fashion) a number a times, it isn't until about 10 minutes in that Pandit Sankha Chatterjee's tabla playing is even detectable. This lasts for only about 30 to 45 seconds, mellows out again and then soon repeats its frenzy in another couple minutes. Along the way, the repetition of a number of charming phrases are offered. Then almost 20 minutes in, Husain Khan finally adds a bit of his solemn voice. It doesn't seem as if he's singing to anyone but himself, and being let in on such a secret conversation is a rare treat.
Those wishing to anchor their listening experience to a vocal track will be happy to hear Husain Khan's voice more pronounced in the second half of this raga, "Raga Kem -- Gat." Similarly, here Chatterjee's tabla is a more prominent fixture as well. Though the music is a bit more upbeat, this track feels more relaxed than the first, as if the musicians were having more fun playing together. They each seem to offer a little more of themselves in the process. The whole track cascades in notes and rhythms. The pitch of the tabla and the percussiveness of the sitar strings are so deceptively similar at times that the listener often forgets which instrument is making which sound. Perhaps such is the nature of the sitar and tabla duets of classical Indian music. Meant for play even later in the evening, the third track, "Janna, Meri Janna," which translates into "Heart, My Heart," is based on a classical folk song Husain Khan was taught by his father, the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan. This final track levels out the album with continued smooth singing from Husain Khan and his relatively sedate sitar.
For those unfamiliar with classical Indian music, the liner notes do offer a bit of helpful terminology. Listed is such information as "Alap treatment is mostly Hansadhwani with one peculiar phrase of Yaman," in regards to the first half of "Raga Khem," and, in regards to the "taal" of "Janna, Meri Janna" we are told it's "deepchandi (14 beats) and teen taal (16 beats)." There's a bit more, though what any of this means to the amateur and casual listener, well, she will be at a loss for the meaning of it all. Whereas I, too, am at a loss for understanding the complexities of the forms represented on this album, from this perspective I reckon that such an understanding would be nothing more than superfluous.
For those well versed in the intricacies of ragas, I can't imagine that the craftsmanship and inspiration are lacking in any way. Those familiar with the works of Ravi Shankar and Husain Khan's father will feel that Husain Khan is sure to be remembered as great a sitar player as either of them.
Being an album of ragas, it's obviously relaxing to listen to. If you plan to have a lowkey evening with an hour of reading in front of you, throw on a pot of tea (decaf if you wish), get comfy on the couch with the cat, get a good book to get lost in (perhaps some Italo Calvino or Hermann Hesse or something sweepingly imaginative) and throw on this disc. Or better yet, if your significant other isn't too far away across vast stretches of sea and land then curl up together and enjoy the sweet melodies offered by Gayaki Ang.
by Kevin Shlosberg