Friday, March 22, 2013

Hariprasad/Zakir Hussain: Venu

This is a fantastic live performance from 1974 that was remixed and released again fifteen years later on the World 360 subsidiary of Rykodisc that was run by The Grateful Dead's drummer Mickey Hart. 

The North Indian bansuri (bamboo flute) master Hariprasad Chaurasia is joined by the great tabla player, Zakir Hussain, in one long raga, programmed into two tracks because of a change in tempo and style, showcasing the improvisational ability and melodic and rhythmic complexity of these awesome musicians working in a long and distinguished musical tradition.

The album title of Venu is a reference to the ancient name of what is today called the bansuri.  The Rag Ahir Bhairav has a beautiful melody played by the flautist with, on the first portion of the track, a drone provided by the tambura.  The uncredited liner notes observe that the piece was created "for the early morning hours" and has melodic origins with a mountain tribe's music that "evokes the expectant hush of the predawn hours."  Consequently, the piece serves to remind the listener of "a time when romantic thoughts of the night mix with a feeling of reverance [sic] for the daily return of life-giving forces."

It is certainly with a feeling of wonder that the listener hears the complexity of the variations of several themes (gats played by Hariprasad on the flute with such purity of tone and range of phrasing, both subtle and powerful.  During the last thirty-five minute section, Hussain's table performs a seven-beat rhythm but, as is typical with Indian ragas, the tempo and tension build to a point where both performers express extraordinary speed and control in a 16-beat cycle called teental, this form achieving some popularity with Western listeners because of its rapidity and energy.

The performance was recorded in northern California in a house with granite walls and state-of-the-art recording equipment for the mid-1970s.  The remixing fifteen years later utilized fairly new digital technologies for that era and the sound is remarkably clear, well-equalized, and crisp.

This was one of the first Indian recording YHB heard when exploring "world music" back in 1990 and it retains its impact and impressions nearly a quarter-century later and is a true favorite, not just of Indian music, but all music.  It is a spectacular experience!

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