Kavi Alexander and Water Lily Acoustics had a special relationship with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. This is the second volume of the sarodiya’s music that the label released.
Kirwani is a musical scale in Hindustani classical music. It is an Indian raga specially suited for instrumental music. The scale is the same as the harmonic minor in western music. There are shades of Pilu in Kirwani.
This raga is a south Indian raga, assumed to have originated from the Carnatic system of music. It is a sampoorna raga which means the raga has all seven swaras in its scale. Songs in Kirwani raga have a melancholy, heart-rending and sentimental feel. It is a harmonic minor raga with moods of love, devotion and sadness. Ideally it is performed at midnight….a moody, sad time indeed for many of us.
There is a record label called Water Lily Acoustics. It is a niche, connoisseur’s label created by a person who can only be described as a mad genius. I am in the process of completing a profile of him for an Indian journal which I will share once it is published.
In short, Water Lily Acoustics had a long gestation period…between 15 and 20 years. It was the idea of a restless, spiritually inclined Sri Lankan who landed in Paris in the summer of 1968–peak period of hippies, protests, drugs and what seemed the dawning of the great Aquarian utopia. This man fell in with an artistic circle in France and later in Sweden where in a serendipitous series of events he found himself behind the console in a recording studio capturing the music of one of jazz music’s iconic figures, Art Blakey. The resulting album is now considered a collectors item renown for the pristine quality of its recording.
And so it went. From Blakey to Dizzy Gillespie to Dom Um Romão and many others, this Sri Lankan zealot in the cause of pure and perfect sound finally ended up in California in the 1980s. And with the chutzpah of a Biblical Prophet standing before the Pharoah gathered unto himself some borrowed Nagra recording equipment, a couple of high end mics and convinced Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, sarod master of Maihar to let him be recorded.
You’ll have to wait to read the full profile to see what happens next and fill in the gaps in this briefest of bios of Kavi Alexander but I want to start sharing with you some of his label’s recordings. The Water Lily Acoustics recordings are regarded as some of the best ever done and ideally should be heard on CD or wax and on a decent sound system. The Water Lily Acoustics catalogue–many hours of material remains unreleased–is one of the great collections of ‘world’ music ever made. Alexander’s vision to bring musicians from seemingly unrelated countries and genres together–often sight unseen–to make music together has resulted in some absolutely delightful and stunning performances. I will share some of these in upcoming posts.
But it was Ali Akbar Khan with whom Alexander formed an especially close bond and who collaborated on a number of recordings. The one I share today is from 1990 and presents the sarod master performing Raga Yaman Kalyan and Raga Jog.
Dr. L. Subramaniam and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan maestros of their respective instruments–violin and sarod–have made huge contributions to the two main branches of Indian classical music: Carnatic and Hindustani. At the same time both have adventured far beyond their own gardens, coupling, tripling and even quadrupling up with a whole assortment of jazz, rock and Western classical musicians. Along with Ravi Shankar, Dr sahib and Ustadji are rightly recognised as some of the best known Indian classical musicians in the West. Any number of albums could be suggested to you but among my favorite is Karuna Supremean early and outstanding example of Hindustani music blended with American jazz (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and John Handy) and Conversations (L. Subramaniam and Stephane Grappelli).
It should come as no surprise then that these two great men came together to do an ‘Inter-India’ fusion album. While sharing several commonalities like the raga (the essential musical frame for all compositions) and a similar scale (though with more semitones available to the Carnatic musician) the music of North India is very different from that of the South. So this album, originally available on cassette, is a fusion of two branches of one of the world’s oldest musical systems.
Raga Jog is sometimes known as Ragam Naatin Carnatic music. Several North Indian ragas have what you could call counterparts in the South, though to be historically accurate and to acknowledge that Carnatic music is considered to the ‘original’ Indian music, I should probably turn that sentence around. Many Carnatic ragams have Northern ragacounterparts.
Raga Jog, some say can be traced back to the time of the court of Akbar the Great (15th C.). True or not, I don’t know but this raga is certainly melodious and both maestros give powerful, sympathetic performances.