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India Via Aspen


Live in Aspen Sharon Isbin, guitar. Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Bangash, Ayaan Ali Bangash, sarod. Amit Kavthekar, tabla. Zoho Music ZM 202405 Total Time:  63:47 Recording:   ****/**** Performance: ****/****


Guitarist Sharon Isbin’s latest release is taken from a concert at the Aspen Music Festival in August, 2022.  The program was a sort of live follow up to an early album, Strings For Peace, with the Indian performers here.  They brought that same energy and musical diversity to the Aspen Festival where the concert was also recorded.  After hearing the mix of the performance, they agreed to this release which features a variety of original music exploring various ragas and music by composer Amaan Ali Bangash, as well as ragas and folk music.

Isbin opens the program with a classic work by Francisco Tarrega, Capriccio Arabe.  The connection here is that composer’s fertile musical ground in 19th-Century Spain with its lingering music of the Moors, flamenco styles, and the sounds of the Romanyi peoples—themselves emigrants from India centuries earlier. 

Ragas are structures in and of themselves that create specific intervallic/scalar relationships in the music.  This distinct shape, coupled with bending of pitches, lends the unique sound to the music of India and which can be heard here in the pieces chosen for the album.  It begins with two extended explorations of the Raga Yaman in pieces for guitar, sarod, and table (Sacred Evening).  The style creates a sort of hybrid world music cross over with its inviting melodic content and improvisational feel.  Also interesting is the unique rhythmic structure of this music.  By The Moon has a 16-beat meter, for example.  Some will also discern an occasional pentatonic melodic construction.

While Isbin joins in for some of the earlier pieces here, Amjad Ali Khan has a solo section that explores ragas from different regions and eras of Indian music.  This is includes the Bengalese Raga Bhatyali, a song favored by Mahatma Ghandi.  The last segment returns the full ensemble for a folk song based on the raga Pilu (Romancing Earth).

For a live recording, the sound is quite exquisite and well-balanced across the different instruments here.  The guitar serves as a semi-Western link to the music as it parallels the sarod lines as well.  This provides a fine transition into the Indian traditional music that is then shared.  There is a sense of flowing forward in these pieces that is introduced with slow exposition of the raga followed by a growing improvisatory meditation on this music.

Audience noise is minimal, though applause is left in at the ends of tracks.  This thus makes for a fine souvenir of the concert for those in attendance, while also celebrating this interesting collaboration.  Recommended for those interested in exploring the classical music of India in fine performances here. 


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