A collection that gives an idea of the range of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music and collaborations.

Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar needs no introduction. Initiated into dance by his brother Uday Shankar, he gave that up to learn the sitar under the great Allaudin Khan. His collaborations with international musicians such as Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison awakened interest in Indian classical music in the West. Given his body of work over 40 years, The Ravi Shankar Collection — a 10-CDs compilation from EMI — gives one an idea of the range of his music and collaborations.

The first CD has two sections. The first is a Hindustani classical rendition of Raga Khamaj with Ustad Allah Rakha. The second is in collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn. Shankar and Previn have arranged the music so that the orchestra is not harmonising, but playing in unison, with the sitar. According to Ravi Shankar, harmonising on an Indian raga can take away its essence.

The second disc starts with a magnificent Raga Puriya Kalyan: aalaap, jod and gat. The second track is a swara-kakali based on Raga Tilang in collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin. Shankar’s tender style and Menuhin’s strong bowing technique makes a very interesting combination. The next four tracks in Ragas Lalit, Bairagi, Yaman Kalyan and Mian ki Malhar are in collaboration with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. Each track is so expressively composed that together they weave a story. Zubin Mehta’s arrangement of harmony makes the tracks even more interesting, especially Mian ki Malhar.

The third explores Shankar’s collaborative works with Yehudi Menuhin in Raga Prabhati, Piloo, Charukesi and Puriya Dhanashri. Menuhin matches and, in many places, overtakes Shankar in the twirls or gamakas of Indian classical music. ‘Morning Love’, a track based on Raga Nat Bhairav, is a collaboration with French flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal. Next is a recording of a jugalbandi (Raag Mishr Pilu) with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan during a live performance at Carnegie Hall. ‘Enchanted Dawn’ is a jugalbandi of a different kind, with Jean Pierre Rampal on the flute and Martine Geliot on the harp.

CD number five starts with a track that explores  improvisations of the theme for Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. The highlight is ‘7 1/2’, a fusion track named after its time signature, featuring greats like Palghat Raghu on the mridangam, Sabri Khan on the sarangi, Allah Rakha on the tabla, Shiv Kumar Sharma on the santoor.

CD Six has more of Ravi Shankar’s compositions as director and conductor. ‘Indo-Japan Finale’ has his son, late Shubhendra Shankar, accompanying his father on the sitar, Lakshmi Shankar on the vocals, Aashish Khan (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s son) on the sarod among other musicians on Japanese instruments. This track shows Shankar's collaborations with younger musicians.

The beginnings of what we call ‘fusion’ today came from such collaborations. Since Ravi Shankar  always maintained his stance on musicians playing only within their scope, most of his collaborations did not experiment too much with pushing the boundaries.

The first track from the seventh disc has Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha playing Raga Bhimpalasi live at the Monterey International Pop Festival; where they played hard-core Hindustani classical music while sharing the stage with the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Simon and Garfunkel and others!

The last three discs are strictly classical in nature. Disc eight is a compilation of Hindustani ragas that originated from the Carnatic tradition: Raag Karnataki, Mishr Pilu, Puriya Dhanashri, Charukeshi. Disc nine has ragas from the Muslim Gharanas: Raagas Bairagi, Nat Bhairavi, Marwa, Lalit. The last disc has three tracks digitally remastered from older recordings in Raga Nat Bhairav, Mishr Pilu and Bhupal Todi.

This is a collection that gives the listener an entire cross-section of Panditji’s music. It covers most of his collaborations and gives one a taste of the maestro’s music. A must buy for any of Panditji’s fans.

The Ravi Shankar Collection; EMI, Rs. 1995

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