The foremost virtuoso of the sarod in modern times, Ali Akbar Khan was instrumental in popularizing Indian classical music in the west. This Rough Guide showcases his sublime talent and intuitive command of melody and rhythm which led violin legend Yehudi Menuhin to dub him 'the greatest musician in the world'.
Above all others, it fell to two towering figures in Hindustani music to usher and shepherd it into modern times and modernity. And onto the world stage. Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009) and Ravi Shankar (1920-2012) were virtuosi on their respective stringed instruments. In many ways they seemed like yin and yang opposites. The Muslim Khan played the sonorous, steel-clad, metal-strung, short-necked lute called the sarod. It is 'male' in the subcontinent's figurative order of instruments, counterbalanced by the Hindu musician's 'female' long-necked lute, the sitar.
These six tracks from the sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan are examples of his inspirational narrative storytelling style. Ken Hunt chose performances that show him adapting his performance parameters to the limitations and challenges of recording technology. The two opening tracks in the deep night raga Darbari Kanada are from his early career as a 78 rpm recording artist.
Unlike radio broadcasts, the technology required the performer to distil and wrap the piece's essence in little over three minutes. These two sides present Darbari Kanada's opening alap movement and the jorin which unmetered rhythm is introduced. Transferring this idea to another era, his 1993 masterpiece Plays Alap took the idea of concentrating entirely to the opening movement to new levels of artistic development.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's repertoire regularly embraced uncommon or obscure ragas. Maligaurais an example with a disputed history it is, however, the workhorse for a number of shababs(Sikh hymns) in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Ladkadahan Sarang, a piece he had released as a 10-inch/25.5 cm disc, is traditionally supposed to have a cooling effect. By contrast, Darbari Kanada, Ahir Bhaira and Pilu are familiar items. Pilu, an evening raga for the end of the day, closes. It acts as a parting glass that returns the anthology to his short-duration interpretations from the age of shellac.
One of several hallmarks of Khan's magisterial style, revealed on these tracks, is his sublime command of the confluence of melody and rhythmicality. He was the living embodiment of Claude Debussy's view that music is "a matter of colours and rhythmical time." That sensibility underpinned his playing wit and style. How he fashioned and adapted his craft, as recording technology changed, remains a marvel.
Every period produces a pantheon of musicians of enormous stature in their field. Rarely does any age have a musician of whom it can truthfully be said they were the world's greatest musician of their time. That is what Yehudi Menuhin called Ali Akbar Khan. Khan is still transporting.