Concert Review

Music without Boundaries Larry Coryell (guitar) Hari Prasad Chaurasia (flute) George Brooks (saxophone) Bill Bruford (drums) Earthworks and Silk World Music Group. Barbican Centre, London. 14 July 2000 (AW)

This unusual concert was promoted by Sama Arts Network & Navras Records, co-sponsored by Air India and Shop Mahal. It was also the occasion for the release of an associated CD from Navras, which has moved into fusion music with a bang and with style.

The mood was set for this marathon event, in effect three separate and distinctive concerts rolled into one evening, with a recorded tape, which helped people to settle into their seats - something that would be anathema to a Western symphony concert audience! Sounds of Indian Classical music slid over into a meandering saxophone recitative, appearing to tell us about far away places; next Indian drumming, full of bite and verve, made an entrance and held centre stage for a while, to be joined again by the saxophone. Jazzy Western rhythms on drum-kit took over, then a harsh insistent tabla started to demand full attention. Slogging it out between Western and Indian sounds, a perfect balance was achieved.

All this was the preamble to an exciting synthesis of live music making. The very rich heritages of Indian classical music, jazz and world music retained their distinctive cultural voices, none of the originating sound worlds subdued or submerged. An intense interchange between equals created new colours and a new vocabulary, everyone contributing and receiving. With the help of brilliant technical manipulation quiet instruments were given sound space, and could hold their own and against the attention grabbing percussions. Amplification was used to spotlight, subtly exaggerate and to fade sounds. The sound technicians must be credited with playing an important and creative part in producing and enhancing this dialogue between the 'voices' of the different cultures and their instruments.

Seen&Heard has often had cause to complain in the past that inordinate amplification had distorted the sounds and balance during Indian classical music concerts, and threatened to overwhelm the very quality of intimate and intricate music making. Paradoxically and mercifully, the resultant CDs have usually avoided gross distortions.

Navras Records has played an important part in making the classical idiom in all its wealth and complexity available for concentrated home listening. Music Without Boundaries is breaking the confines of the small space and addresses itself to an urban jet-setting age in which for very many people cultural interchanges are the norm on a daily basis. Invigorating and at times vigorous amplification plays its part and creates an additional layer of the performance. The technical manipulation of the sound picture in this concert was as much a part of the musical dialogue as any of the other individual voices, whether human or instrumental.

Because it was way past my young grandson's bed-time I was unable to stay for the whole evening, but I enjoyed particularly Shankar Mahadevan embroidering Louis Bank's pearly piano playing with sensuous and sinuous vocal lines. Anandan Sivamani had me sitting on the edge of my seat with his vivid, virtuosic and pulsating percussion playing. He created relentless movements of patterns, sensitively and perfectly attuned to and matched by the other musicians.

Music without Boundaries made manifest that the old heritage is not lost but embedded in and contributing to new kinds of music making which this evening was rhetorical, flamboyant, virtuosic and exhilarating. I look forward to recapturing some of the excitement and filling in what I missed with the CDs of this memorable evening which will be released in due course [see later review]. Meanwhile, I can recommend unreservedly the Music Without Boundaries CD newly available on Navras Records NRCD 6001.

This came from a live recording of a concert in San Francisco in 1998, and features many of the players heard at The Barbican. It captures the excitement generated by an exhilarating and virtuosic cross-over concert in West-Coast USA. The rapt attention of the audience communicates itself and their very audible presence gives a vitality to the musical interchanges. You can feel part of the captivated listeners, laughing, coughing and clapping. What is lost of the immediacy of a shared and encompassing experience is gained by exploiting the possibilities of the recording to focus on the textures of particular instruments. The physicality of the sounds is highlighted (and can be savoured again) whereas, when one is swept along in the multi-layered onward rush of a live concert performance, a lot of detail can be lost.

The musical textures which emerge from the ghatam (a clay pot) under T.H. 'Vikku' Vinayakam's virtuosic hands are breathtaking, and the meditative and flowing rivulets of notes which George Brooks coaxes from the saxophone are pure delight. Larry Coryell's guitar seems at times beguiled by the East, with exquisite, softly contoured lines. Hariprasad Chaurasia's flute playing must surely melt away any reservations; he is one of the undisputed greats of Indian classical music, and he proves himself comfortable too in the fusion situation. His rhetorical exchanges with the tabla, played by Swapan Chaudhuri with spellbinding virtuosity, opened up a musical conversation of boundless possibilities.

This CD is truly a record of music making without boundaries at its most sophisticated, with sounds and rhythms tumbling out in such profusion as to make it almost impossible at times to keep pace. Its richness warrants replaying many times

How about Navras considering bringing out the eagerly awaited Barbican Music Without Boundaries concert as a DVD, to enlarge upon and intensify the electric atmosphere generated by the live event?

Alexa Woolf


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