Asian Music and Dance

‘A Tribute to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’

What amount of courage and focus does it take to get up on stage and perform? Of all the many – and I mean very many – supreme musicians, it has been my inordinate pleasure and privilege to sneak an inner glimpse of their world at, the sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan sahib is contender for the one that (a) educated me the most; (b) illuminated my appreciation of music (note, not Indian music) the most; and (c) released music of uttermost numinosity into the world the most. He was also more down-to-earth than any other top-ranking musician I have known. Given the chance, he would revel in cooking Bangla dishes – fish with everything – from start to finish. When the chamchas – the ‘spoons’ (literally and metaphorically) that ladle out sycophantic praise – weren’t there to hosanna his every kitchen move because it was Him that had cooked, you could see that he was so at ease in his own skin – the maestro, whom Yehudi Menuhin described to me as the greatest musician on the planet, and the maker.

So, clearly there could have been no pressure on his son, Alam Khan, born in 1982, to deliver a recital with this concert’s title. The first ‘half’ of the recital was a well-chosen, sunny afternoon ‘Bhimpalasi’ eventually unfurled in 16-beat teentāl. His opening ālap movement was really good, a gentle unfolding with some lovely wa-wa (‘excellent’) expressivity. Par for the course, given that his old man called one of his finest albums Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Plays Alap. But the way he revealed the jōr – the movement with unmetered rhythm that many Hindustani audiences kinda ho-hum through – was exquisite. I repeat the word exquisite. Any narrative that is being told needs introductions – characters, settings and motives, that sort of ālap thing – but then it needs its plot development or jōr, as we Indians call it – before the denouement. However much he is steeped in the family’s musical tradition, Alam Khan is not his father. Clearly the deal is him delivering a different sort of deal. Yet his ‘Bhimpalasi’ still produced a number of chip-off-the-old-block resolutions of the unexpected twist kind, resolutions showing an awareness of pace, speed and balance, and two or three that prompted ‘you little rascal’ smiles.

The concluding ‘half’ similarly reflected unseasonably warm, summer-come-early sentiments with, if you get my gist, ‘Mishra Piloo’ as its back-garden trampoline. It brought to the fore the sensitivities of Anubrata Chatterjee (another son, in his case, of the tabla-player Anindo Chatterjee) – incidentally the Darbar festival literature’s proofreading proved pretty lame – and Alam Khan with some fine call-and-response interludes. Its concluding segue or fantasia, sometimes known as a garland of ragas, flew. Alam Khan is never going to be his father, however much or how long he plays sarod. However curious that may sound, that is part of the joy of what happens from father to son. Speaks a father. Loved the concert.



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