Saturday, November 1, 2014

Anthology of World Music: The Music of Pakistan

Another installment in Rounder Records' reissuing of fifty fantastic albums from around the world collected by Alain Danielou for this International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation and released on vinyl between 1968 and 1987, this album features the magic sitar playing of Mohammad Sharif Khan.

The pieces consist of two longer ragas, the "Nur Gharii" of almost 24 minutes in length and the "Darbari" of 18 1/2 minutes in duration and a shorter collection of improvisations based on Punjabi folk songs lasting about ten minutes.

Unfortunately, there is no listing of either the tabla or tambura players who accompany Khan, but the sitarist is unbelievable.  As typically found, the pieces start slowly and contemplatively, with Khan introducing themes and then improvising off them, while building tension and intensity as the rhythms and tempos get stronger.  His deft, rapid runs are played flawlessly as the pieces develop and it is really a treat to hear this master develop his playing.  The unidentified accompanists also do their parts extremely well, making these three performances real gems.

As the liner notes explain, there is no fundamental differences between northern Indian and Pakistani classical music, other than the styles employed by the various gharanas or schools.  Of course, there wasn't a Pakistan, until the Muslim state was created out of the ashes of the British empire in the Indian subcontinent.  What Danielou explained, however, is that, unlike in India, the musicians in Pakistan have not received anywhere near the support for their art.

A newspaper article from the Pakistani Friday Times in 2011 made an interesting comparison between Khan and the great Ravi Shankar, noting that Khan had a "subtler, more sinuous" manner of performance opposed to Shankar's sarod-like playing (the sarod is another stringed instrument, which Shankar's one-time brother-in-law, the amazing Ali Akbar Khan mastered--and an album with Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan has been featured on this blog.)

Notably, the article also pointed out that Mohammad Sharif Khan and Shankar performed together at a 1971 concert in Bombay, in which "these differences were brought to the fore" over the course of the 4-hour (yes, 4 hour!) performance.  One wonders if this was recorded and, if so, released, because it must've been a remarkable concert.

The Anthology of World Music series is a great one, full of interesting and satisfying traditional world music performances, and this installment, with Khan's impeccable playing, is a highlight.

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