From Fanfare, March/April 1993
While many giant labels create much noise (Ambrose Bierce defined it, "a stench to the ears") and publicity while touting their "product," there exist more modest recording companies, of smaller scale but tended with far greater insight, backed by knowledge rather than marketing, the fruit of their near-to-desperate concern for their music's survival. The efforts of such unsung heroes balance the dangers facing music's historic course, of the weighty versus the substantial. Raga Records is one, the brainchild of its co-founders John Wilton and Ira Landgarten, who know well that India's greatest classical musicians are at their best live. They have begun documenting the performances of ragas in which time bears no constraint and the presence of a receptive audience yields some of the finest playing. Three CD's of the late, awesomely gifted sitarist Nikhil Banerjee are available as well as other releases. A new and absolutely essential document, a model of its kind, comes in the form of Das Gupta's CD, which is accompanied by a fifteen-page booklet containing an in-depth interview with the artist who positively demystifies the art of sarod playing and its origins. Suffice it to say that it arrived in India through the rebab players of Afghanistan before gaining acceptance at the courts. Das Gupta points out that much of its idiomatic playing is based upon the right-hand picking technique of the rebab: having this in mind allows the ear to better follow the way Das Gupta outlines other appropriations made by sarod players, such as the imitation of other instruments. Such documentation of an artist representing an otherwise unfamiliar or vaguely understood medium for Western listeners is an absolute marvel and makes the interview alone worth having as a reference work.
Then there is Das Gupta's playing. Adjectives such as sultry, introspective, gripping, or fervent would barely suffice to create an impression of the expressivity and mastery in his playing. The interview by Ira Landgarten clarifies his underlying technical excellence and the inheriting of a grand tradition from his mentor, Sri Radhika Mohan Maitra, a legendary sarod player whose art has become undeservedly obscured due to the lack of recordings (except for half an LP once published in India). The sixty-eight minute raga played here is characterized by having a flatted third and seventh notes and is summoned out of the instrument with great spontaneity. What Raga Records has accomplished yet again is to pair a superb performance with a text essential to any listener interested in India's highest musical expression.-- Allan Evans