A packed hall, an emotional audience and a vocalist par excellence…Pandit Jasraj made the opening concert of Friday Review November Fest an unforgettable one

A spontaneous, standing ovation greeted him the moment he appeared on stage. And, after the veteran sang unflaggingly for nearly two and a half hours, to launch The Hindu’s Friday Review November Fest 2012 at The Music Academy, how could the listeners not rise again, making the packed hall echo with thunderous applause?

At age 82, venerable looking Pandit Jasraj brought a lifetime’s experience to make his concert audience-friendly.

Refraining from presenting Hindustani counterparts of Carnatic ragas as North Indian maestros generally do in Chennai, he warmed up with a lengthy Gorakh Kalyan of slow vilambit phrases, getting the mikes to cooperate, and allowing his accompanists to get tuned to pitch-perfect tranquillity.

The slow khyal ‘Tum sang preet more laage’ unfurled itself in phrases of mounting resonance. The Jasraj signature was unmistakeable in the extremely long held notes, especially in the power-packed upper shadja, in the delicate handling of the panchama, in phrases with a strong ascent and modulated descent, in the sudden surprises compelling attention.

The playful had its place, here and through the concert, when the master varied patterns with just two or three swaras slotted in differing beats. In the tarana rounding off the faster speed essay, the adroit use of the bols merged rhythm and melody into a cohesive experience.

The elegant backdrop of giant scrolls designed by Showspace, turned white to glow like ice and snow against midnight stars, when the master vocalist came into his own with a stuti in raga Shankara on mountain dwelling Siva. Combining the austerity of sharp notes with multi-shaded ornamentation, the raga reflected the majesty and grandeur of the Supreme Dancer. Sprightly tabla and some excellent additions by the young vocalists, had melody ripple and flow like the swirling Ganga imaged by the phrases.

Gentle notes

After that sheer masculine outpouring came the feminine curves of Madmaad Sarang, its notes contrasting with Shankara, and eminently suitable to evoke the gentler beauty of the lotus-like goddess, ‘Sarasija nilaye saroja haste...’

In the finale, the same raag could also charge the phrase Sive sarvartha sadhike with the electrifying upper panchama. This Madmaad Sarang clearly illustrated the raga-swara stylistics Pandit Jasraj has carved for himself, to satisfy his penchant for Sanskrit hymns, and for his highly dramatic, mood-shifting, emotion-plumbing explorations.

Expectedly, Maata Kaalika came next, on popular request, bearing the stamp of Jasraj sangeet even more strikingly. Nothing blasé about the singer’s approach to the familiar favourite.

He brought the compelling energy of maturity and personal devotion — to goddess and guru — to the Adana verses extolling Kali, the destroyer of evil. The primal nature of her puissance was most manifest when the voice touched the low adhara shadja, reverently, reverberantly.

The classical took a backseat as popular devotion rose to the fore in the Bhimpalasi finale on Krishna with the choric ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vaasudevaya’.

Rattan Mohan Sharma and Ankita Joshi, the young vocalists who accompanied their guru, proved to be chips of the old block in style and empathy. The harmonium (Mukund Petkar) was supportive.

Encouraged by the maestro to be less quiescent, the tabla (Ramkumar Mishra), an unobtrusive adjunct in vocal recitals, provided crisscrossing colours to light up the vocalist and the short percussion spurts.

The flute drew no attention to itself, with famous Carnatic flautist Shashank Subramanyam playing well within himself, and the mridangam (Sridhar Parthasarathy) had less to do.

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