Hariprasad Chaurasia & Kumar Bose: Flute Deity / Purbayan Chatterjee: New Dawn Mind / Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Salil Bhatt & Sandeep Das: Mohan’s Veena

Tim Hoke wrote this for Green Man Review.

Hariprasad Chaurasia & Kumar Bose: Flute DeitySense World Music is a label focused on recordings of Indian classic musicians. Among their recent releases are CDs by both aged masters and young prodigies.

Hariprasad Chaurasia is a master of the bansuri, the bamboo flute of Northern India. Flute Deity refers to the Hindu god Krishna, another flute player. This double CD set was recorded live at the annual Saptak Festival (the particular year isn’t listed).

The first disc is a performance of “Raga Kaunshi Kanada,” a raga associated with the late night. The piece begins with the alap, a slow improvised exploration of the raga over a drone. Chaurasia’s early training was as a vocalist, and in the alap his flute closely imitates a human voice. In the next section, the jod, the tempo picks up and the flute plays a series of rhythmic phrases. There are a couple of places in the jod where the flute stops briefly, and some soft percussive sounds are heard. There’s no explanation of this in the insert, and I don’t know what the sound may be, but I can’t shake the mental image of Chaurasia tapping his fingers on the holes of his instrument. From the jod, the piece accelerates into the jhalla, and the passages become more complex. Throughout, the phrasing is fluid, with the same inner cool that great jazz players have. The disc finishes with two compostions where the flute plays against tabla accompaniment in cycles of nine, and then twelve, beats. Tabla player Kumar Bose joins Chaurasia for this part. The flute plays repetitive phrases over busy tablas, which at times bounce back and forth between the speakers.

Purbayan Chatterjee: New Dawn MindThe second disc contains a single composition, one that is considered semi-classical. This is also a live performance, apparently abbreviated; Chaurasia pauses midway to comment that he’s been signalled to finish, but that he has one remaining section to play, and that section should properly take one hour. The section is played, at least in part — it’s nowhere close to an hour.

Purbayan Chatterjee is a young sitarist who’s already built up some repute for his skill. New Dawn Mind begins with with the alap of a morning raga, “Raga Bhairav.” Chatterjee shows a fondness for the low end of the sitar’s range, drawing forth long, buzzing, bassy tones. The jod follows, and the playing speeds up somewhat. The drone strings are used for a steady pedal tone, and again, the low notes of the instrument are favored. The remaining two tracks are rhythmic explorations of “Raga Jaunpuri,” another morning raga. After a brief alap, Chatterjee is joined by Satyajit Talwalkar on tabla, and the pair go through nine- and sixteen-beat rhythm cycles. Talwalkar also favors low tones. The music grows in intensity with each change, speeding up. The notes come in flurries, before the disc ends in a few exhausted, lazy notes.

Mohan’s Veena is another double album. This one features the father/son duo of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Salil Bhatt. This recording is especially unique because the Bhatts are playing a pair of instruments of the elder Bhatt’s invention. Dubbed the “Mohan Veena”, it’s described in the insert as “a radical transformation of the western Hawaiian guitar”. Radical? I’ll say. The photographs show a guitar body with a specially designed neck to accommodate an assortment of melody, drone, and sympathetic strings, to a total of twenty, played with fingerpicks and a steel slide bar. Strange to read about, even stranger to look at…but it works. Or at least it seems to, from the persepective of outsider to the tradition. The instrument has a timbre similar to other Indian stringed intruments, but the slide gives it a sound all its own, sometimes reminiscent of a Hawaiian guitarist or Delta blues bottleneck player. If that’s not unusual enough for you, Bhatt’s website mentions his latest brainchild, the 35-string Vishwa Veena, which, sadly for the curious types, didn’t appear here.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt et al: Mohan's VeenaThe two players are recorded on different channels; each one comes out of a different speaker. Like the other recordings, an alap (of “Raga Bageshri”) starts Disc 1. There’s a small difference here; the use of the slide permits wider bends and more dramatic swooping of the notes. The two Mohan Veenas also sound different, possibly due to microphone placement; the left is noticeably stronger and brighter that the right. Experience might also be a factor here; Vishwa Mohan is on the left channel, Salil on the right. Jod and jhalla are next, followed by compositions set to rhythmic cycles. Tablas, played by Sandeep Das, are added for these; first a sixteen-beat cycle, then another, also sixteen-beat, but considerably faster. Das’ tabla work is driving, but at the same time very light.

Disc 2 begins with a lullaby based on a classical raga. Of all the tracks, the Mohan Veena sounds most guitar-like on this one, ending with a passage of harmonics. This is followed by a folk song from the Bhatts’ native Rajasthan, a sedate melody over popping tablas. The disc concludes with an evening raga, “Raga Bhairavi.” The raga begins with a slow alap that takes up the lion’s share of the cut. The tablas join in as the pace accelerates to a medium tempo for the final few minutes, finishing to a rousing applause.

Those interested in Indian classical music should keep their eye on the Sense World label. I think they have more good things to come.

(Sense World Music, 2003)
(Sense World Music, 2003)
(Sense World Music, 2003)

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