A Rare Pairing: Jnan Prakash Ghosh and V.G. Jog

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The obiquitous harmonium or hand pump organ, were it to be classified within the caste structure of Hindu society, would definitely not be considered a Brahmin.    It is far too common and lowly for that.  Perhaps the rank of shudra, those who service the rest of society, is more appropriate.  Like the shudra or lower castes the harmonium provides an essential, indeed, indispensable service to Indian musicians, especially singers.

Whereas about 150 years ago, before the current version of the harmonium was reinvented for Indian conditions by Dwarkanath Ghose, it was the sarangi that vocalists chose to accompany them.  But over the years as musical tastes, technologies and consumption patterns changed the harmonium has succeeded in almost totally pushing the sarangi to one side.

Now every singer of ghazals, geets, bhajans, qawwali, nat and kirtans either plays the harmonium her/himself as she/he sings or has someone sitting close to her/him who keys out the melody line.  Though purists continue to look down their noses at the instrument–its foreign, its ugly, its cheap–and for nearly 25 years it was forbidden (!) to be played on All India Radio, its place in the concert hall is as secure as that of the tabla or sitar.

Though it is often a scorned instrument, there are many absolutely fantastic, nay, virtuoistic harmonium players from all rungs of professional and informal music worlds.  In the villages it is played with a rough raw abandon that is a wonder to behold. On classical and semi classical stages it is more demure–often simply peppering the vocal lines by way of emphasis.  The number of qawwalis that open with extended harmonium solos are far too many to count.   But despite its amazing versatility across genres and styles the harmonium has rarely ever been given center stage. As an instrument worthy in its own right  to be heard, to sing, to fly as a voice as serious as Ravi Shankar’s sitar or Ali Akbar Khan’s sarod.

But all that is about to change today!

While digging around in my collection I came upon this fantastic and rare (in concept, if not in availability) recording.  A jugalbandi (musical conversation) between the violin, played by the legendary Prof. V.G. Jog and the harmonium played by percussionist and all round musican Jnan Prakash Ghosh.

I’ve been listening to this over and over, thrilling to the idea and sound of one of my favorite instruments, finally getting the recognition it deserves.  To make its case and assert that it is not content to just sit on the sidelines ‘servicing’ the stars of the show but that it too is worthy of being fully in the limelight.

This particular record was issued in 1985 but there is an earlier recording of the two gentlemen made in 1967.  I’m not sure whether they are one and same and this one is a reiusse of the original or if there are multiple such jugalbandis out there. But I’m on the case, and I’ll be sure to let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy this tremendous and unusual recital.

 

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Track Listing:

  1. Shyam Kalyan
  2. Jhinjhoti and Misra Kalengra with Dhun Kaharwa

Jugalbandi Ho!

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Early Sound: Shiv Kumar Sharma

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The Kashmiri Samrat of the santoor, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, has been playing his magical instrument for nigh on to 65 years now. And it never fails to thrill me to hear the mezrab (mallets) gently knock against one of the one hundred strings of the instrument.

 

The flute, the jaltarang, the tabla and of course, the sitar, all evoke India from the very first notes they sound. And so too, does the santoor, possibly the most electric of all of India’s musical instruments.

 

And sadly for all other players of the instrument, they are destined to live and work in the deep shadows of Pandit Shiv Kumar ji who has so dominated the santoor that he has become synonymous with the instrument.

 

Here is an early (the earliest, some say) recording of the master. Recorded either in 1960 or 1967 and available with a couple different covers (both of which I share) this album pulses with the tingling sounds of the santoor.  Panditji was to develop a more complex, fuller sound in the years to come and as such this recording is certainly not his best. But it is still excellent and I’m pleased to share it with you today.

Track Listing:

  1. Raga Lalit (Gat in Jhaptal &Teental)
  2. Dhun in Bhairavi (Keherwa)
  3. Raga Kalawati (Gat in Teental)
  4. Dhun in Pahadi

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A Jazz Voice: Sachal Vasandani

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Sachal Vasandani

There is something about south Asians and jazz. The open horizon of possibilities perhaps. The discipline of discipline.  The conjurers trick of masking precision in seeming effortlessness and spontaneity.

Of course the theoretical synergies between raga-based music and jazz, especially the reliance of both on the imagination and improvisation of the players is well documented.  But still, the number of contemporary jazz artists (pianists, saxophonists, singers, drummers, guitarists) who are from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi (and even Nepali) backgrounds is remarkable.   The subject of a future book perhaps.

And here is one more. Sachal Vasandani, the son of Sindhi immigrants to Chicago, has over the past decade or so released a number of albums that have placed him in the higher ranks of American jazz singers.

A native of Chicago, Vasandani attracted attention in 1999 when he was named Down Beat magazine’s Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year. He has worked with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. His debut album was Eyes Wide Open. He has performed consistently worldwide since his first release on Mack Avenue Records in 2007. His second album, We Move (2009), was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. He has collaborated with many of the prominent jazz artists of his generation and those of earlier generations, including: Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, Bill Charlap, Bobby McFerrin, John Clayton, Stefon Harris, Gerald Clayton, Taylor Eigsti, Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, Camila Meza, and others.

He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he studied jazz and classical music. [Wikipedia]

We Move (2009) is his second album.  A good, if not entirely brilliant album, its hard to deny that Vasandani doesn’t have a feel for his chosen genre. And his voice is a pleasure to listen to.

Here is what All Music has to say about today’s selection:

Sachal Vasandani‘s second CD shows he is maturing as a jazz singer and composer, continuing to refine his approach while landing safely in flat fields of open expanse. His voice rarely wavers or explores upper or lower registers; rather, it stays within a comfort zone that avoids much of a challenge. This consistency serves his songs and his audience well, working within a current trend of singers who stay within specific rhythmic boundaries and don’t really push the envelope. Vasandani is helped by pianist Jeb Patton and a backing trio that has been with the vocalist for almost a decade, while co-producers John Clayton and guitarist Doug Wamble give him a bit of a push here and there, mixing up standards with subtle originals. The title track shows the most originality in a steady, repeating, and wistful mode; “Ring Road” (contributed by drummer Quincy Davis) has Vasandani in a playful, ever cool mood; and “Don’t Worry About Me” has that contemporary hip-hop rhythm originated by Ahmad Jamal under the singer’s slick, level-headed style. The old Joe Williams number “By the River St. Marie” is bopped hard within the controlled dynamics of Vasandani‘s voice, and he goes for some scat on the intro of the combo tune “Once in a While” and Patton‘s “Horizons.” The group covers the chestnuts “No More” and Thelonious Monk‘s “Monk’s Dream,” both with lyrics penned by Jon Hendricks, but the results are not optimal or perfect. Where the singer is most convincing crops up in an elegant, confident manner on “Escape/There’s a Small Hotel,” but especially during “There Are Such Things,” a serene interpretation that comes straight from the heart. The most unusual arrangement is more in a baroque or chamber style on the low-key “Royal Eyes,” which merges effectively into a small samba. After two recordings, Sachal Vasandani has found somewhat of a niche, but needs to ramp it up creatively and take more chances in order to stand out from the small group of contemporary male jazz vocalists.

You may have your own opinions.  But in any case, Vasandani is another chapter in the fascinating history of contemporary jazz and it’s cohort of ‘desi’ practitioners.

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Track Listing:

01 Escape – There’s a small hotel

02 No more

03 Don’t worry about me

04 Every ocean, every star

05 We move

06 Once in a while – Horizons

07 There are such things

08 By the river St. Marie

09 Ring road (back to you)

10 Royal eyes

11 Monk’s dream

12 I’d let you know

13 Heartbeat

14 Travelin’ light

Vasandani

 

Snake Charmer’s Orchestra: Iqbal Jogi and Party

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A rather interesting album made originally in the 1950s during the ethno-music craze that brought non-Western/exotic music into suburban homes in the West.

The instrument featured here is called by several different names across South Asia: murli, been or punji.  The Murli or Punji is a wind instrument which consists of two parts; the upper part is made of a dried and hollowed gourd which acts as the main sound chamber. The lower part is constructed from two reed pipes which are joined together into a double barrel form and positioned below the sound chamber. On most of these instruments the reed section has eight holes, which are used to play tones for music. However, in some parts of Sindh there is an additional hole in the lower back end of the right pipe. This instrument is known as a Murli in Sindh, and a Punji in other parts of Pakistan. It is most commonly recognized for its popular use by snake charmers throughout South Asia . 

Iqbal Jogi is a name known only to others than his family and friends as the key been player on this record. A Sindhi, in all likelihood,

The Jogi (also spelled Yogi; meaning “sage” or “saint”) are a Hindu sect (nath sampraday), found in North India and Sindh, with smaller numbers in the southern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Jogi is a colloquial term for the “yogi”, which refers to the people who practiced yoga as part of their daily rituals. Over the time, this led to the formation of a community, and subsequently was formed into a caste. (Wikipedia)

Jogis are mendicants, who perambulate from holy site to holy site, and who often stop by your door, with begging bowl, simple musical instruments and colourful turbans or skull caps.  Though the name derives from yogi, a Sanskrit term, in the middle ages, especially in Sindh and Punjab, the jogis were associated with a math (spiritual refuge) in northern Punjab called Tilla Jogian (jogis hill). Adherents to the sect while nominally ‘Hindu’ came from all faiths and segments of society and were called Gorakpanthi after Gorakhnath the sect’s founder.

Iqbal Jogi is of this group of spiritual musicians.

When you think about this recording it has Monty Python-esque possibilities.  A bunch of bearded , turbaned men dancing about blowing into snake-charmers gourds!  But don’t allow your mind to go there. As this more recent release of the album is subtitled, there is a lot of passion in this group.  They blow intensely and seriously, bringing new life to some Sindh’s oldest and most beloved folk songs and melodies.

So settle back and prepare yourself for some very special sounds…a snake charmers orchestra!

The Passion of Pakistan

Track Listing:

01 Lorau (A Folk Tune Popular in the Desert Region of Sind.)

02 Momil Rano (A Folk Romance)

03 Kohiari (From the Sind Region of Pakistan.)

04 Lal Mori Pat (Traditional Folk Song)

05 Bhairveen (Raag of the Morning.)

06 Sorath (Folk Tune in Sindhi Ragni.)

07 Pahari (Tune of Sindhi Folk Song & Dance.)

08 Pahari (Folk Tune in Raga.)

Iqbal Jogi

Updated Files: Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

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A few days ago I posted Volume 53 of the Music Pakistan series which features the singing of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali KhanAs mentioned many times already about the Music Pakistan series, a number of tracks on about 7 of the discs are completely unlistenable—damaged beyond repair during the (somewhat shoddy) production process.

Well as so happens from time to time, a reader of the blog reached out with the following message:

When I listened to this great release on the Music Pakistan series by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, I found the Bhopali track very familiar. On investigation it seems I can help you, as all the music you posted from this CD was previously available and I have pristine digital versions of all the tracks…

Talk about tantalising! Of all the corrupted CDs in the box set this volume was the one I regretted the most. And here was someone claiming to have not just listenable and identical versions but pristine copies!

Well, I replied to the mysterious gentleman who shall go only by the initials ‘ljf‘.  And over the course of a couple of emails he laid out his amazing detective work which he’s agreed for me to share.

According to ‘ljf’: Most of the recordings seem to have been digitised from LP’s or 78 RPM’s as there are plenty of pops and crackles, but they are still quite listenable. Almost all the recordings of Bade Ghulam Ali that I have are of poorish technical quality, except for the few LP tracks that he recorded.

A few years ago, on the usual commercial digital  websites like Amazon etc, you could get a download “album” called “Hindustani Classicals Indian Classical Vocal Music” by Bade Ghulam as well as other similar albums by several other artists from around the same era like Gangubai Hangal amongst others (attached is cover from this digital download). They were from a company called NAV Records in 2015. These downloads were in MP3 format and now all seem to have disappeared from the commercial download websites. Mostly these recordings came from Akashvani Sangeet or Doordarshan CD’s released by AIR. This is also true for this digital download of Bade Ghulam from NAV records, which had 19 tracks. The first 9 tracks came from 3 Akashvani Sangeet CD’s (C-ARCH)H 36-38 , but I could never figure out where the other 10 tracks came from. Now I know, because these are exactly the same 10 tracks as on your Music Pakistan CD !

As to the source of these 10 tracks, none are new material, all were previously released on LP, EP or 78 RPM. Tracks 1 & 3, Bhopali & Kamode came from an LP LKDR 1 released in 1970 by EMI-Pakistan called simply “Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan”. This LP has been posted on Tawfiq’s blog a while ago and the covers stated that the music came from Radio Pakistan broadcasts (this LP has also been released by EMI-Pakistan as a digital download, with the same mastering as the original LP). The other tracks came mainly from Gramophone Company of India 78 RPM’s recorded in 1948 which were later re-released on LP’s. Incidentally track 4 labelled as a Piloo thumri is I believe in Manj Khamaj. Likewise track 5 labelled as Raag Kajri is actually a kajri in Raag Bhairavi.

Probably the most interesting track is the Bhopali from the EMI-Pakistan LP. Actually the version on your Music Pakistan CD is slightly different to that released  on the LP. There’s absolutely no doubt it is from the same live performance, but your version is around 1:30 minutes longer than on the EMI-Pakistan LP version (and also on the corresponding digital download). It took me a while to realise that this is a different edit to the version released on the LP. The sound is clearer, though there is more background noise and a section around 1:30 minutes long (starting around 4:00 minutes) has been cut out for the version issued on the LP. Quite exactly what has been going on here is not exactly clear, as it seems likely that some editing has been carried out in India and some in Pakistan. The longer version has some coughing on behalf of Bade Ghulam, and possibly this has been cut out and is the reason for the shortened version making its appearance on the LP.

Attached is a pdf file with a track by track listing of the original  sources for the Shalimar RBC CD. I stress that though the source recording is the same, it seems that these have been all reedited for the Shalimar release. This may have entailed going back to the original 78 RPM’s /EP and re-transcribing them in digital format. I don’t know if
they had access to the original Radio Pakistan recording (presumably done on acetate discs?) but it seems likely as it is around 1:30 longer than on the EMI-Pakistan LP.

Track by track source material for CD Music Pakistan

So here you go folks! Pristine Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

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