Sunday, September 28, 2008

In Review--Sultan Khan & Manju Mehta

Sultan Khan (Sarangi)
Manju Mehta (Sitar)
Sense World Music

Sense World Music has brought us several jugalbandi (duets) and ensembles featuring women and men musicians. Following this tradition, Umeed features the illustrious Sarangi Player Sultan Khan and the formidable woman Sitarist Manju Mehta. While I have heard few jugalbandi recordings featuring these two North Indian instruments, this pairing seems natural, yet exotic. Even better, this 2-CD set was recorded live at the Saptak Festival so listeners get to experience the spirit of the moment.

The musicians play their instruments in a singing style, imitating classical Indian vocals. To do this well, musicians spend years in intense training with gurus. By the time they reach the recital stage these musicians are versed in beat cycles, vocal styles, and mastership over their respective instruments. When they reach the stage where Khan and Mehta are, the musicians can literally leave you breathless when you hear their virtuoso performances. Hearing this caliber of performance can even lead you to an obsession, although healthy one, with classical Indian music.

The first CD features the musicians performing Raag Kaunsi Kanada. The slow and moody Alap unfolds gently as the Sarangi and Sitar explore the terrain. The musicians pick up speed and intensity on the Jhor and Jhalla. I get this sense of the musicians' enjoyment performing this duet. Two tabla players, Prithviraj Mishra and Hetal Mehta come on board on track 3 and while the mood remains somber, power builds. And this power is not released until the final track, Rajasthani folk song sung by Khan, who is also known for his vocal talent.

On CD 2, the musicians with Sukhvinder Singh on tabla, perform the livelier Raag Malkauns. Again the musicians deliver a powerful and thrilling performance that must have left audience members on the edge of their seats. Certainly the stellar musicianship coupled with sensitivity makes this CD set a mood lifter.

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