And then there was Ravi Shankar himself: upright, modest and eager to announce the first piece, a traditional raga with a 14-beat rhythmic cycle. Ravi eased into the tonal tapestry of its opening alap, pulling at the sitar's neck with the force of his expressive vibrato. Next came the rhythmically complex gat, urged on by the fleshy slap of Singh's tabla and eventually spiralling into an ecstatic dance. Ravi's second raga was one of his own making, with a freer, more intensely voiced alap and ample scope for nimble solo work.
After the interval, we arrived back to find everyone already on stage, busily tuning. Anoushka was poised to play her solo (specially written for her by her father), which she did with consummate skill. Ravi asked us to bless her; then, her work done, she knelt towards him for a fatherly hug. It was a proud, colourfully voiced raga, whereas the final piece was a wide-ranging improvisation on a familiar theme. "This time, we don't know what we're going to play!" said Ravi, but the ensuing dialogue culminated in a white-hot tabla contest, with Singh and Ghosh surpassing themselves in rhythmic dexterity.
Much the same could be said for the North/ South Indian drum trio that crowned Shiva Nova's similarly amplified Purcell Room concert on Monday. Karaikudi Krishnamurthy and S Paskaran represented the South on mridangam (an oblong drum, snappier than a tabla but without its characteristic "gulp") and large clay pot, while Sanju Sahai played tabla. The music subscribes to a specific beat cycle, with one player taking the lead and the others following in playful mimicry. Again, dexterity ruled: the clay pot, in particular, yielded an extraordinary wealth of sound.
Earlier, Sahai had been joined by Kiranpal Singh on santoor (a sort of soft-toned zither) for a free-ranging accompanied tabla solo, beguiling to the ear although - as Sahai himself hinted - time was at a premium and he felt the need to rush. The evening's centrepiece was Rhythm Tricks, a winsome half-hour's worth, directed from the electric keyboard by Priti Paintal, in which Sahai and Singh were joined by Nancy Ruffer (flute) and Neil Heyde (cello). A feast of laid-back solos and playful duets, Rhythm Tricks served as its own mini-Meltdown, a mild-mannered trip across instrumental borders and a far cry from the vapid "fusions" that traditionalists love to hate.
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