Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ravi Shankar: Concert for World Peace

It's a bit disconcerting (no pun intended) to realize in the 14 years since Ravi Shankar gave his "Concert for World Peace" in London's Royal Albert Hall, that not only has world peace continued to elude us, Shankar himself has become perhaps better known to younger audiences as Norah Jones' dad rather than the towering figure of "world music" he has been since being introduced to mass audiences by way of his relationships with the Beatles in the 60s, though the musical cognoscenti had known of his many accomplishments since at least the early 50s. This fascinating document shows the now elder statesman of Indian music to be surprisingly spry and inventive as he improvises over two "ragas," the Indian musical forms that are somewhat related to our western concept of scales, though the Indian conception is far more complex and includes rhythmic and melodic patterns interwoven with the basic intervallic foundation.

Shankar is surrounded by four additional musicians, whom he lovingly calls his disciples, including stellar tabla (Indian drum) player Zakir Hussain. Watching Shankar hoist his sitar (which looks like a mutant, overgrown guitar) and begin to coax almost human sounding moans and laughs from it will give most music lovers immediate goosebumps. While many untrained western ears may complain that "nothing's happening" in these frequently leisurely explorations, repeated listening will prove that there's sometimes so much happening, and so much that is foreign to our musically subdivided ears, that the spaciousness and inventiveness does not become fully apparent until several repeated listenings. Of course, none but the most educated in Indian ragas is going to fully understand Shankar's genius, but even the dilettante in Eastern musics is going to appreciate the interplay between these fine musicians.

For rock aficianados who point to 18 minute drum solos as the apex of musical achievement, note that this DVD is comprised of exactly two "pieces"--one lasting about 30 minutes, and the second close to an hour. This gives some indication of the depths that Shankar reaches as he delves into the motifs of each raga. Also be aware that that means the DVD only has two chapter stops, which may confound some people used to an "every 5 minutes" indexing.

Shankar's gentle spirit and inquiring intellect shine through this concert, and it will be appreciated by lovers of fine music everywhere.
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