Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ashwini Bhide....

What: A review of an ICMCA sponsored concert of Indian Classical Music
Who: Ashwini Bhide (Vocal), Vishwanath Shirodkar (Tabla), Seema Shirodkar (Harmonium)
Where: Casa de Luz, Austin, Texas
When: 7 pm-10pm June 11, 2010

This review is offered as a service to the community interested in Indian Classical Music. We believe that reviews can be important channels for feedback to the artists, audiences and aficionados of music and are necessary to keep the field vibrant and the discussion lively. In this spirit comments on and reviews of this review are also most welcome.

The concert began at 7:20 pm with Raag Maaru Behaag, an evening melody. The Vilambit (slow) Khayal was set to the wording ``Rasiya na Jaa" and came to the Sum (first beat of the Tabla) with the notes S M G-S, G M P-MP-(upper case letters denote raised and lower case letters denote flattened notes). Maaru Behaag is a favorite Raag of Maharashrians and the predominantly Marathi audience immediately responded spiritedly to Ashwini Bhide's tuneful rendering of this beautiful Raag. Although the emphasis is on the GMP-MP- phrase, Maaru Behaag also sounds very beautiful in its approach to the Komal (flattened) Madhyam m (fourth note F) as in the phrase S m P G and the artist skillfully exploited this specialty of the Raag. The Vilambit Khayal was followed by a Drut Khayal (both were set to 16 beats Teentaal and Addha equivalently Sitarkhaani, respectively) which had the same ending note cluster as in the Vilambit. The artist displayed her impressive virtuosity and voice control with many fast Taans and complex Layakari (rhythmic patters) and the total treatment of Maaru Behaag lasted over 40 minutes.

The next item was a Thumree with the wording ``Sunder Saari..." due to the 15th century North Indian Brij Bhasha poet Surdas to whom over 1500 poems have been attributed. The artist blended a number of light classical Raagas including Piloo, Khammaach, Maand and Shivranjani to render this lovely and lyrical song, which as she explained in the beginning had an obvious (soiled Saari) as well as a deeper philosophical meaning (body versus soul).

After the intermission the artist began with the late night Raag Maalkouns in which she first presented a Vilambit composition in Roopak Taal, of seven beats. The Sum was chosen to be on S and the wording was ``Naada Saagar Aparampaar, Maha Katthin, Jo Paayo Na Paayo". She elaborated the Raag with care and in detail and explored it thouroughly before moving on to the Drut (fast) composition in Teentaal (16 beats). The emphasis now shifted to the upper part of the octave with mukhra (S d, g-m n-).The fast composition had many fireworks and came as a wonderful and welcome contrast to the Ati Vilambit Khayaal.

At this point it is necessary to mention the outstanding accompaniment provided by Seema Shirodkar on the Harmonium. She very quickly established herself, early in the concert, with her brilliant and tasteful improvisations while not overstepping her supportive role. I have not heard this level of great music from a Harmonium player and was truly overwhelmed as was the entire audience. She drew repeated applause from the enthusiastic audience.

The next item was a Bhajan in Raag Iman Kalyaan with wording composed by Sant Tukaram the 17th century (1577(?) -1650) Marathi saint. The music of this beautiful composition was set by Ashwini Bhide's mother and Guru Manik Bhide. Although Iman Kalyaan has the same set of notes as Maaru Behaag the treatment and approach are quite distinct and the artist gave a great account of this important and central evening Raag. The Bhajan ended with the refrain ``Pandurang Vitthala", a prayer to Lord Vitthala (Krishna), worshipped by Tukaram.

The performance concluded with an Abhang (Marathi) Bhajan in Raag Bhairavi which has become a traditional concluding item in evening concerts even though it is a morning Raag. The singing was emotionally intense and spirited and ended in a highly charged atmosphere.

Ashwini Bhide is a truly great artist. So is Seema Shirodkar. Vishwanath Shirodkar provided able and spirited Tabla accompaniment and was most communicative with the audience. Dr Bhide has a Ph.D in Biochemistry but nowhere in the publicity did she flaunt this fact. This is indicative of her modesty and is highly commendable in today's environment where titles such as Pandit and Ustaad abound and are often self-bestowed. The Austin concert was the 25th US concert for this group, on the present tour, and it is easy to see why they are in such demand given the brilliant concert they presented.

ICMCA has therefore once again brought great music to Austin and Austinites and deserves congratulations. Nevertheless a few critical remarks may be pertinent to future events. First the concert began late, a pattern that has come to be associated, regrettably, with Indian functions in general. In this case 20 minutes was not excessive by Indian standards and even understandable because of the unexpected turnout (140 people). The venue was quite inadequate and a disservice to such a great artist. Its physical appearance was dismal and so were the acoustics. Lastly, ICMCA's regular sound man appeared in his usual uniform sporting a pair of rather short shorts, squatted in the front row on the floor with raised legs, and repeatedly pointed his toes toward the artist. This is unacceptable in the concert culture of Indian Classical Music. ICMCA may be reluctant to impose a dress code on the audience but surely it can impose a simple dress code on their soundman: No shorts or armpit revealing cutoff vests. ICMCA has acquired a good reputation for hosting outstanding artists. They can greatly improve their wonderful musical presentations by eliminating some of the relatively minor irritants mentioned here.

Sur Saadhak

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jayteerth Mewundi...

What: A review of a house concert of North Indian Classical Vocal Music by Jayteerth Mewundi
When: May 14, 2010 7pm-10-45pm.
Where: Kamlesh Saxena home, Austin

This review is offered as a service to the community of music lovers. Like most reviews it is subjective and its purpose is to promote discussion, interest and awareness.

The artist started the evening's performance with Raag Puriya in which he rendered a short Alaap, vilambit (slow) composition set to Ektaal (12 beats) and drut (fast) composition in Teentaal (16 beats). The beautiful Alaap was rendered in a serene and composed style and blended exquisitely with the atmosphere of the evening sunset visible through the tall glass windows of the elegant Saxena home. The Vilambit composition continued the slow and elaborate introduction of the Raag. The artist was most ably supported by Guruprasad Hegde on the Harmonium. The voice was in perfect Shruti as Jayteerth systematically progressed through the Raag paying careful attention to each note and cluster of notes. This style of treatment was reminiscent of the approach of the late Ustaad Amir Khan. The slow Ektaal khayal was ably supported by Bharat Kamath on the Tabla which was appropriately tuned to a lower register. The fast composition was breathtaking and the artist's voice gained in power and control as the Raag proceeded to its conclusion with many lightning fast Taans ranging over three octaves and more. Raag Puriya is a beautiful but difficult evening Raag and only seasoned artists can handle it. Its notes are the same as of the more popular Marwa which has the signature line Dha Ni re (with re atikomal). Puriya's chalan is more like that of Iman Kalyan and it must be kept distinct from Raags Puriya Dhanashree and Gouri. Jayateerth's rendering of Raag Puriya is one of the best I have ever heard.

The second Raag was Joag in which the artist sang a beautiful Tarana composed by the late Ustaad Amir Khan. The composition was set to Madhya Laya Teentaal and the medidative and introspective as well as heroic moods of Joag were in full display. The artist showed great command over his voice and deep understanding of the Raag and explored its structure through intricate and fast Taans. The accompanists rose to the occassion and supported him with exquisite Harmonium accompaniment and lively and responsive Tabla accompaniment.

After the intermission the artist rendered Raag Shankara. He explained that the stalwarts of the Kirana Gharana including Ustaad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustaad Abdul Wahid Khan had imbibed many musical ideas from the Carnatic tradition and he demonstrated this in his gorgeous treatment of Shankara. Thi was followed by several Marathi Abhangs and Bhajans including the well known Bhajan of Purandara Das ``Bhagyada Laxmi Baaramma". The concluding item was Raag Bhairavi which converged to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's famous song ``Jo Bhaje Hari ko Sadaa". The rendering was spirited and full of Bhakti Bhaav and emotion leaving the audience spellbound.

Apparently this is Jayateerth's first trip to the USA. It was indeed a rare privilege to hear such a great artist in a house concert setting. I am sure he will be visiting often and I hope this was an eye-opener for those in charge of planning for the Music Societies.

Sur Saadhak

Ghulam Farid Nizami...

What: A review of a concert of Indian Classical Music
Who: Ustaad Ghulam Farid Nizami (Sitar) and Shiv Naimpally (Tabla)
Where: Radiance Dome, Austin, Texas
When: 7:30 pm-9:30pm May 14, 2010

This review is offered as a service to the community interested in Indian Classical Music. We believe that reviews can be important channels for feedback to the artists, audiences and aficionados of music and are necessary to keep the field vibrant and the discussion lively. In this spirit comments on and reviews of this review are also most welcome.

The concert began with Raag Madhuvanti an evening melody that is supposed to remind one of the scent of honeysuckles and other flowers at dusk. Nizami's Sitar was well tuned and he was able to capture the mood of this exquisite Raag in the short Alaap and the Vilambit (slow tempo) and Drut (fast tempo) Gaths (compositions) that followed. He was ably accompanied by Shiv Naimpally who gave solid rhythmic support. The next Raag was Iman Kalyan a popular evening Raag whose main moods are peace and devotion. Nizami once again did a great job of evoking the mood of the Raag in a short Alaap followed by two Gaths in slow and fast tempos respectively.

After a short intermission (during which Samosas, cookies and Chai was served in the Dome) the second half opened with Nizami presenting the vocal music part of the concert. He accompanied himself on the Harmonium very ably during this part and rendered a beautiful composition in the springtime melody Raag Bahaar and several songs from North India. The opening piece was the famous Rajasthani song ``Kesariya Baalam" in the Raag Maand. Nizami's singing was passionate and tuneful and reached the higher registers flawlessly. The audience could easily relate to the music on an emotional level despite the language barrier and gave the artists a standing ovation.

The concert was billed as a Sufi Music event. Nizami himself referred to it as ancient music (1000 year and 700 year old respectively) from Pakistan. Ancient Pakistani Music? In view of the fact that Pakistan did not exist until 62 years ago I was intrigued. What exactly is Sufi Music? Does Sufi Music refer to North Indian Classical Music sung by Pakistanis? What music has originated in Pakistan since its creation? Why was it that Nizami not once stated that his music was 100% Indian Classical Music?

Perhaps the answers to these questions can be traced to the schizophrenic attitudes of the Mughal Emperors of India towards all things Indian. They loved the Music but hated to acknowledge its Hindu origins from Vedic times and pursued a relentless campaign to Islamicize the music. As a result all Hindu musicians in the Mughal courts had to convert to Islam or adopt Islamic names. A prominent example of this is Ustaad Wazir Khan (1840-1932) the Guru of Ustaad Allauddin Khan (1862-1972) and 19th century leader of the Senia Gharana, whose private Hindu name was Chhatrapal Singh.

It is appropriate to point out that Nizami claims allegiance to the Jaipur branch of the Senia Gharana and has recently obtained political asylum in the US based on his claim that he cannot pursue his music in Pakistan. Indeed the Islamic regime of Pakistan continues to have an ambivalent and hostile attitude to this music and has almost destroyed this rich culture in Pakistan. After attending a concert, the late Pakistani dictator President Ayub Khan approached the musicians and asked them to rename the Raags after deleting the names of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses!

Nizamiji is an excellent artist and a wonderful addition to Austin's growing slate of talented resident musicians pursuing this type of Music. Austinites are generous and liberal but Nizami should not underestimate their knowledge, intelligence and sophistication especially when he performs at a place like the Radiance Dome where the audience is devoted to the spiritual teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the ancient Gandharva Music tradition.

Sur Saadhak

Kushal Das and Kumar Bose...

What: A review of a concert of Indian Classical Music sponsored by India Fine Arts, Austin (IFA)
Who: Kushal Das (Sitar) and Kumar Bose (Tabla)
Where: Jones Auditorium, St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas
When: 6:30 pm-9:30pm April 25, 2010

This review is offered as a service to the community interested in Indian Classical Music. We believe that reviews can be important channels for feedback to the artists, audiences and aficionados of music and are necessary to keep the field vibrant and the discussion lively. In this spirit comments on and reviews of this review are also most welcome.

The concert began with Kushal Das announcing cryptically that he would play Raag Monomanjari. No further explanation of the genealogy, origins or structure of this Raag was offered. Since Monomanjari is not a well known Raag by any stretch of the imagination this reviewer felt that the artist did an injustice to the audience by omitting any explanation of this Raag and its characteristics. The least he could have done was to mention that this Raag was a creation of the late Sitarist Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, that it essentially was an embellishment of the traditional evening Raag Puriya Kalyan with the addition of Komal Ni.

Kushal Das played Alaap, Jor, Jhala, Vilambit and Drut gats in Raag Manomanjari for a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes before declaring an intermission. The playing was full of virtuosity with the artist displaying good command of the Sitar. However the Raag did not come to life at any point of the performance and the listener was left to wonder what the mood or message of the Raag was. The Komal Ni crept into the beautiful structure of Puriya Kalyan as an anomaly and at best was a curiosity with no particular significance or meaning. The two gats in Teental were lacklustre with both gats sharing essentially the same melodic structure.

The performance livened up considerably when Kumar Bose entered the arena. His playing was brilliant and extremely responsive to the instrumentalist's improvisations. The percussionist's virtuoso accompaniment drew several rounds of enthusiastic applause. The solid tone of the Tabla and the colorful Benares style of playing was in full display and highly impressive. Kumar Bose's communication with the audience was also upbeat, positive and enthusiastic and in sharp contrast to the Sitarist's lack of interaction with the audience.

The second half of the concert consisted of the single Raag Khammach. The Sitar playing was mostly on frets and there was hardly any Meend work. A Raag such as Khammach can be played in a feminine Thumri style or orthodox masculine classical style. Kushal Das seemed ambiguous as to which style he was presenting and as a result, once again, the character of the Raag did not come to life. And once again Kumar Bose brought life to the concert in both the vilambit (slow) Rupak (7 beats) and drut (fast) Teental (16 beat) compositions with his virtuoso and stylish accompaniment.

Both artists were billed as Pandits. This listener was left to wonder how such a title is obtained in the present musical scenario in the context of North Indian Classical music. Is it conferred by the sponsoring organizations, by audiences, by All India Radio or Sangeet Kala Academy? Or is it self-conferred by the artist?

Sur Saadhak