The Very Best of Ravi Shankar (b. 1920)
CD 1
Prabhati (based on Raga Gunkali) (1999 Digital Remaster) [4:80]
Swara-Kakali (based on Raga Tilang) (1999 Digital Remaster) [8:50]
Raga Piloo (1999 Digital Remaster) [14:40]
Dhun (1999 Digital Remaster) [6:28]
Twilight Mood (1999 Digital Remaster) [10:34]
Raga Kaushi Kanhara: Alap-Jor-Jhala (Live) [19:20]
Raga Kaushi Kanhara: Gat In Dhamar (Live) [10:50]
CD 2
Kafi-Holi (Spring Festival Of Colors) (Digitally Remastered) [7:14]
Mishra Piloo (Digitally Remastered) [10:37]
Tala Rasa Ranga (Digitally Remastered) [2:58]
Tabla - Dhwani (Digitally Remastered) [4:53]
Song From The Hills (Digitally Remastered) [3:10]
Tala - Tabla Tarang (Digitally Remastered) [3:31]
Gat Kirwani (Digitally Remastered) [2:39]
Raga Malkauns (Alap) (Digitally Remastered) [10:30]
Raga Malkauns (Jor) (Digitally Remastered) [10:46]
Tala Sawari (Digitally Remastered) [7:29]
Pahari Dhun (Instrumental) (2000 Digital Remaster) [12:30]
Ravi Shankar (sitar); Yehudi Menuhin and friends
EMI CLASSICS 6294552 [73:54 + 75:42]

EMI knew what they were about when in 1966 they recorded Yehudi Menuhin with Ravi Shankar. The Beatles were at what proved to be a long sustained zenith. They had taken up Transcendental Meditation and travelled to India to study with the Maharishi. That pilgrimage turned out to be a bit of debacle but for a while East did indeed meet West in a glare of publicity. George Harrison among The Beatles sustained the Indian connection the longest and was a pupil of Shankar. Indeed Harrison introduced Indian instruments into Norwegian Wood.

On the first disc in recordings ranging through the 1960s to the 1980s Menuhin vies with and reacts to Shankar's sitar. You can hear this in Swara-Kakali which echoes and sways with possessed virtuosity. The Raga-Piloo is more meditative. Yet Menuhin does not hold back with the zigeuner stuff amid the haze established by sitar and tabla. Those wayward harmonies in Dhun must surely have been in Paul McCartney's mind in writing Mull of Kintyre. Twilight Mood reminds me of the oriental music of Alan Hovhaness and Henry Cowell. It also makes me wonder what one earth John Foulds' lost Symphony of East and West might have sounded like. He wrote it as music director of All-India Radio for an ensemble of native Indian instruments and a Western orchestra. Its manuscript was lost in India some time during the 1930s-1940s. As a matter of interest Shankar too held a senior executive position in AIR but a couple of decades after Foulds' death.

The richly recorded Raga Kaushi Kanhara captures every plangent resonating sway and tanpura impact. It's fascinating to hear Shankar and his colleagues in recordings from before the Menuhin collaborations in studio in 1963-65. These can be found on the second disc. They were made when Shankar was something of an exotic star in the USA. These recordings from the 1960s cannot escape discreet analogue hiss. The tracks are grouped around the album names - "India's Master Musician", "Portrait of Genius" and "Sound of the Sitar". Most interesting here is the inventive use of instruments that conventional classical ears would regard as exotic such as the tanpura, tabla-tarang, dholak, santoor and kartal. This is heard to strongest effect in the Tala Rasa Ranga where ear-tickling stereo effects are the order of the day. The flute, played by Paul Horn, adds a Western reference point but its sinuous progress sounds completely Indian. Tala Tabla Rasang is especially beguiling - in fact the highlights of this set can be found under "Portrait of Genius".

It will be painfully obvious that I lack the vocabulary or knowledge to touch on anything other than the superficialities in this case but one thing I did notice is that a sort of convention for opening these pieces is a quasi-metallic arpeggio effect. Its heard at the start of many of these pieces. The other notable aspect is that this music not infrequently sounds as if it had Scottish Gaelic roots.

For a complete change do try this Shankar album. It could hardly be bettered for the curious beginner. As to how true experts would assess this music-making or its authenticity as regards autochthonous sources I do not know.

The playing time is pretty generous giving you access to approaching two and a half hours of Shankar's musical world a world that had room for other musicians and which he was happy to share.

Rob Barnett

Could hardly be bettered as an introduction to Shankar's mastery.