Sunday, January 01, 2017

CD Review: Ravi Shankar - In Hollywood, 1971

Ravi Shankar
In Hollywood, 1971
(Northern Spy/East Meets West)

This double-disc set of sitar master Ravi Shankar contains just four tracks. One clocks in at 10 minutes, two come close to a half-hour each and one goes on for 52 minutes. To some, this might seem like way more Ravi Shankar than anyone needs. In truth, the set serves as a great way to get immersed in Shankar's music, listening for nuances, discovering them and realizing that the whole performance has a hypnotic quality.

In Hollywood was recorded at Shankar's home on Highland Avenue, where it was not unusual for him to invite friends over and play a morning concert. What time of morning is not specified, but another allure of the performance comes when thinking about Shankar playing while the sky is dark and continuing as the sun came up, combining the tranquility of the music and nature.

The performance happened on June 12, 1971, so it's likely that George Harrison was one of the people in attendance. That period coincides with the time that the sitar master started talking to Harrison about the effect of Cyclone Bhola on East Pakistan (aka Bangla Desh), which lead to the Beatle's landmark Concert for Bangla Desh that August.

History aside, the album is far from a lo-fi home recording. Without any real post-production qualities added, it captures all the elements of the music, with Shankar, Alla Rakha (tabla) and Kamala Chakravarty (tanpura) recorded at close range. "Hollywood Raga Vibhas" opesn with some low, bent sitar notes, which, to Western ears, can draw a comparison between this music and American blues. The intimate recording adds some good bite to this passage. Shankar and the group move through rhythmic and tempo changes naturally, which still sounds impressive considering this is not music that could be written down. (Shankar once explained this to me in a phone interview, and I'm still trying to comprehend all of it. Sukanya Shankar [his wife, and mother of Anoushka] explains ragas in great detail in the liner notes, which add to the quality of the whole package.

For people looking to explore Shankar's music and legacy, In Hollywood offers a great starting point. Longtime fans should also revel in the spirited performances on it.

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