Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s Raga Shuddh-Sarang; Raga Piloo-Kafi

raga-shuddh-sarang-raga-piloo-kafiUstad Amjad Ali Khan began playing professionally in 1952, at age six. His father, the legendary Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, was his primary teacher; the father also shared a teacher with Ravi Shankar. Amjad Ali Khan is among the most widely recorded and heard performers of Indian classical music, having appeared at festivals and concerts worldwide. He claims as an ancestor the inventor of the sarod, and has become widely identified with that instrument, producing innovations in technique and style that have become standards of Indian performance practice.

In the Raga Shuddh-Sarang, Amjad Ali Khan makes good use of the characteristics of the sarod to provide a languorous beginning in the alap. Rather than emphasizing the percussive nature of his instrument, Ali Khan builds a guitar-like ambiance that moves seamlessly into the Gat in vilambit Teental, a low-key, medium tempo set of variations; Sabir Khan’s tabla is crisp and serves very well to define the parameters of the movement, while the tamboura of Biswesar Sen subtly underscores Ali Khan’s lucid improvisations. Sabir Khan does provide some intense passages throughout the movement – in many respects, it is his showcase. The Gat in drut Teental flows out of the vilambit Teental seamlessly, inexorably gathering motive force until it fades out in a rapid patter of intricate interplay among the musicians.

Raga Piloo-Kafi opens in a very similar in mood to that of Raga Shuddh-Sarang, although betraying more tension as the movement progresses – the phrase “pregnant pause” seems relevant here. Ali Khan leads beautifully into the Gat in vilambit Teental, in which his treatment is almost jazzy – slinky and seductive, until Sabir Khan once more contributes some rapid, almost frenetic interludes on the tabla, a back-and-forth that lasts for the entire movement, approaching and then retreating from the full intensity that one knows is just below the surface. The intensity begins to build as the musicians shift into the drut Teental, but, if I can seem to be slightly contradictory, it is a very understated intensity – it is not a matter of crescendo so much as a matter of involvement that is almost palpable. Again, Sen’s tamboura provides just the right subtle accents to reinforce the flow of the music through passages of amazing intricacy, and again it fades out with a rapid interchange that, almost leaves us gasping.

This is, for those interested in classical Indian music, an excellent illustration of the possibilities of the sarod. Neither raga is terribly long – about 25 minutes each – and in both, the musicians display the kind of engagement that is an integral part of successful performance in Indian music. This one really rewards attention.

(Amigo Musik, 1999) [Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, sarod; Ustad Sabir Khan, tabla; Biswesar Sen, tamboura]


Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there. You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.

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