Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Remembering Ravi Shankar

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Ravi Shankar with George Harrison
  • Ravi Shankar with George Harrison
Last month the music world lost one of its greatest treasures - - Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Best known in the U.S. for his association with The Beatles, Shankar crafted a musical legacy of immeasurable influence and importance, shaping the direction of jazz and rock while bringing Indian classical music to international attention. While Shankar became world famous for his masterful, genre-defining recordings of North Indian classical music, his mind was wide open to a vast range of different sounds - - be it pop music or left field avant-garde experimentation. Shankar's large discography is full of these under-appreciated gems and the following list surveys a few of my favorites.

Ravi Shankar - Anuradha (1960)
Throughout his lengthy career, Shankar enjoyed a continuous relationship with film - - from his early work in the 1950s with India's legendary cinema artiste Satyajit Ray, to his score for the 1982 blockbuster biopic Gandhi. Despite this strong connection to the silver screen, Shankar composed only a handful of scores for Bollywood films during his lifetime. Anuradha was his first and perhaps most successful venture into the world of Hindi popular cinema. Songs like "Hai Re Woh Din Kyon Na Aaye'' and "Kaise Din Beete'' - featuring the golden voice of Lata Mangeshkar, have endured as classics of Bollywood's "Golden Age."

Ravi Shankar - Improvisations (1962)
This landmark LP pairs Shankar with a jazz quartet featuring Bud Shank on flute and Gary Peacock on upright bass. The visionary sound of Shankar's Indo-jazz fusion would captivate and inspire a generation of jazz artists, from John Coltrane to Miles Davis. The album also contains a stunning version of Shankar's beautiful theme from Ray's 1955 film Pather Panchali.

Ravi Shankar - Alice in Wonderland (1966)
Shankar composed this score for a surrealist BBC television adaption of the famous Lewis Carroll children's book. The maestro's minimalist compositions - featuring a blend of sitar, sarangi, piano, oboe and tabla achieve a haunting and hypnotic effect. Alice In Wonderland stands as one of Shankar's most appealing and approachable works. Sadly, the music never received an official release - but a diligent Google search will reveal several bootleg versions available for download.

Ravi Shankar - Transmigration Macabre (1973)
Undoubtedly the most overtly psychedelic title in Shankar's catalogue, Transmigration Macabre was composed for the soundtrack of an odd British art film exploring the psychological turmoil of a disturbed man's belief that his dead wife has returned to life in the form of a cat. In addition to traditional Indian classical instrumentation, Shankar uses the glass harmonica and eerie washes of synth to create atmospheric themes revealing a darker, more ominous side of his musical palette. Track titles like "Madness," "Anxiety," "Torment" and "Death" sum up the mood of this excellent LP.

Ravi Shankar - Shankar Family & Friends (1974)
Produced by George Harrison, Shankar Family & Friends features an all-star cast of Indian classical musicians in collaboration with an all-star cast of American jazz and R&B musicians. Shankar's English language pop composition "I Am Missing You" is a standout, sounding like an outtake from Harrison's Phil Spector produced All Things Must Pass. The LP was largely ignored for years, until a generation of hip-hop crate-diggers rediscovered its massive funk breakbeats and cool South Asian grooves.

Ravi Shankar - East Greets East (1978)
A thoroughly unique mix of Japanese and Indian classical music traditions. East Greets East finds Shankar trading licks with master Japanese musicians Susumu Miyashita and Hozan Yamamoto, on the koto and shakuhachi respectively.

Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass - Passages (1990)
Philip Glass often looked to traditional Asian rhythmic patterns for inspiration while developing his groundbreaking minimalist composition techniques - so the melding of the duo's distinctive styles in this jointly composed chamber music piece is remarkably fluid. A beautiful and spiritual musical statement, Passages stands out as a major high point in both artists' discographies.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's podcast features a selection of recordings by Ravi Shankar.

You can download and subscribe to the Cultural Manifesto podcast on Itunes here.

1. Ravi Shankar - Alice in Wonderland (excerpt)
2. Ravi Shankar - Fantasy
3. Shankar Family & Friends - Nightmare (Despair & Sorrow)
4. Ravi Shankar - Impovisations on Pather Panchali
5. Ravi Shankar - Alice in Wonderland (excerpt)
6. Ravi Shankar & Yehudi Menuhin - Prabhati
7. Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass - Sadhanipa
8. Shankar Family & Friends - Nightmare (Lust)
9. Ravi Shankar - Fire Night
10. Shankar Family & Friends - Nightmare (Dispute & Violence)
11. Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass - Ragas in Minor Scale

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