Ira Landgarten

From Fanfare, March/April 1991 · Volume 14, Number 4

BANERJEE: Raga Chandrakaush. Raga Khamaj. Nikhil Banerjee, sitar; Mahapurush Misra, tabla. RAGA RECORDS RAGA-201 [ADD]; 50:36. (Available from: Raga Records, P.O. Box 635, New York, NY 10014.)

My understanding of the theoretical ins-&-outs of Indian "classical" music takes distant second place to my love for the stuff. Perhaps it's really one's sense of wonder at the artistry of the virtuoso players and singers of both Northern and Southern traditions-they are different-that takes precedence over all. Indian music (I think this is a fair generalization) is really about improvisation arising from rhythmic and melodic modules which, strict though they may be, promote in their unfolding displays of a sensuality, ardor, complexity, and fire as no other music in the world.

Your reviewer's Indian collection (all CD) numbers thirty-odd, with a few more from Pakistan. This Raga disc differs from most in that it was taped in 1967 for a live-to-air broadcast over KPFA, Berkeley, one of the Pacifica stations (for which foundation, in a former life, I recorded New York area poets). The distinction between this and studio productions appears in what one hears as an extra measure of spontaneity and fluency-a looseness and theater the one-time-only circumstance encourages over that of the recording studio, where a single performance, as everyone well knows, amounts in practice to multiple takes. For this alone the disc occupies a special place in a large and largely unavailable discography of a ma who died at altogether too young an age in 1986. Mahapurush Misra, Banerjee's longtime tabla accompanist (the maven is likely to wince at the term-these drummers arc closer to equals than accompanists), born in 1932, died the following year. I tested my sense of Banerjee's greatness by requesting of Harmonia Mundi USA what I believe to be the only other CD of the sitarist available here-Chhanda Dhara SNCD 8886. This too offers superb playing (from, I think, several years later), and is well recorded, but with the channels reversed: the listener perceives the drummer to the right of the sitarist, rather than at the left, where one normally hears him. Not a serious problem.

Apart from the beauties contained therein, there's another compelling reason to acquire this Raga CD: John Wilton-he is Raga Records-can't make more till this first earns enough for that to become possible. There are, however, six Raga cassettes, two of these of Banerjee, and if they're half as good as the disc I listen to as I write, I would tend to describe as urgent the need and advantage of having these performances on a permanent medium. -Mike Silverton


Nikhil Banerjee