It is not very often that one comes across music pieces that span the entire career of an artiste. Particularly so,if the artiste is someone of the calibre of Pandit Ravi Shankar,whose vast collaborations make any sort of collation difficult. But The Ravi Shankar Collection successfully does just that.
The album 10 discs of rare compilations opens with a composition in raag Khamaj,an evening raga and has Ustad Allah Rakha on the tabla in an Abbey Road Studio recording from 1967. As the secrets of the swara come to fore,with shudh (consonant) and komal (flat) nishad making an appearance at regular intervals,Shankar softly touches every note as he creates a slew of permutations and combinations within the raag structure. The same CD comprises a 1971 collaboration with London Symphony Orchestra. As the orchestra members try to fit into the framework of various Indian rhythms,Shankar makes sure that the sitar does not overpower their performances.
But there are also instances of his showmanship and individualism. While playing the meditative raag Puriya Kalyan on CD 2 or the reflective Rageshri on CD 7,he moves into a different dimension,far removed from the everyday world,and delivers each note like a prayer.
Mishra Pilus defining motif Ga ma pa dha is created right in the beginning in disc 4 as Shankar collaborates with sarod maestro,guru bhai and former brother-in-law Ustad Ali Akbhar Khan in a live concert at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York. As both legends find freedom within the confines of Hindustani classical music,what is dominant is the baaj (playing style) of the Maihar gharana and the teachings of their guru,Ustad Alauddin Khan. One can spot certain grace notes like the komal rishabh in their music. Both the nishads are easily dominated by the Beenkaar baaj of the gharana that blends a slew of leyakaris and tantrakaris. Another rare concert is the Indo-Japanese finale on disc 6 played by Shankar and his son Shubho Shankar.
A large part of the compilation deals with Shankars collaborations with stalwarts of western music such as with violinist Yehudi Menuhin on disc 2 and flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal on disc 3. In Morning Love,a collaboration with Rampal,Shankar has replaced the tabla with bongos,tom tom and timpani. A drone is created with the help of the harps as Shankar layers the notes of sitar on these. Menuhin and Shankar play a composition based on raag Tilang that reinforces their similar attitude to music. It isnt an unknown fact that both took lessons from each other,merging Indian classical music with jazz and shared dinners at Pandit Jawaharlal Nehrus place. The idea that the two disciplines are similar in terms of improvisation was not common knowledge at that time and was discovered during these concerts.
Most recordings on this compilation belong to a time when Shankar was at the peak of his career. Be it Bhairavi the early morning raag full of half plaintive notes on disc 9 or the live performance of raag Bhimpalasi on disc 7 in front of the young audience in Monterey International Pop Festival,Shankar delivers steller performances throughout. In the latter,as the melody soars after a rich alaap and Ustad Allah Rakhas tabla joins in,the raag reaches a crescendo,and in turn an exuberant climax. This was Shankar at his most inspired and for a listener,nothing could be more thrilling than being a part of the experience.