Ira Landgarten

From Fanfare, May/June 1993

NIKHIL BANERJEE. Ragas Bhimpalasri and Multani. Nikhil Banerjee, sitar; Kanai Dutta, tabla.RAGA RECORDS RAGA-211 [ADD] 77:29

In the words of Ali Akbar Khan, with Bhimpalasri (or Bhimpalasi), "you can make the animals cry with this rag." It is set for the late afternoon, and evokes "devotion, pathos, joy." Maestro Khan's view is an understatement, as the Raga Bhimpalasri will move any living form. It has inspired Ravi Shankar's best playing; a comparison may be drawn between him and Banerjee, as a fine account by Shankar was once issued on LP. A live recording from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (World Pacific WPS 21142, not available on CD) has Shankar slowly exploring the deep bass register and wildly squeezing the highest possible tones out of the sitar. This writer heard Shankar unfold the Raga several times in concerts over the years and found it to be the high point of his repertoire, remaining the most profound memory of his art. Both Shankar and Banerjee studied with Allauddin Khan, the father of Ali Akbar Khan, who existed for 110 years, a genius who mastered numerous instruments and performance styles. Shankar tends to develop motives linked to the registers and does so in a vigorous straightforward way, an appropriate way to expose his classical music to a new and enthusiastic audience. He dwells on the visceral and exhibits an extroverted virtuosity. Banerjee is a more introspective interpreter; the main difference is in the way one always remains aware of the excitement in Shankar's performance (with his splendid colleague Alla Rakha) while from the first note of Banerjee's account, an invisible architecture emerges and with it great heights of emotive playing are achieved. He begins the Bhimpalasri by intoning the flatted seventh, a very determining note in the raga. Hearing this tone open the doorway to the Raga stuns the listener. His Alap (arhythmic solo section) lasts a fleeting ten minutes before the masterful tabla of Dutta enters; both are possessed by the Raga, whose sonic form is ever present. Rag Multani is another fine work, having a raised fourth in its scale. The Alap finds a leonine Banerjee roaring out the low tones. These two compositions were fortuitously recorded one evening in 1970 at a Rotterdam concert on professional equipment.

Raga Records carries out the philosophy of capturing India's greatest artists at their best before an audience. A convenience is provided with bands identifying the beginning of each raga section. This disc marks their fourth release in their continuing efforts to make available Banerjee's live performances on CD and represents some of his finest playing. This overjoyed beast of a writer had to dry his eyes while listening.-- Allan Evans