Shankar (double violin)
Who's to Know (ECM 1195 827 269-2)
Shankar (double violin),
Zakir Hussain (tabla), Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman (mridangam), V. Lakshminarayana (tala keeping).
Composed by Shankar.
Recorded: Ludwigsburg, Germany, November 1980
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
The Indian violin virtuoso Shankar seems to suffer a chronic identity crisis. Over the years, he has been variously credited as Lakshminarayanan Shankar, L. Shankar, or Shankar. Recently he changed his stage name and now answers to Shenkar. While there may be good reasons for this, it sure is confusing. Shenkar has had identity issues with his musical persona as well. In India, he was one of the greatest young classical Indian violinists. He traveled to the U.S. in 1969 and discovered jazz music. This led him to co-found the groundbreaking Indo-jazz outfit Shakti. Then he fell in love with pop music and recorded the Frank Zappa-produced album Touch Me There, one of the most ill-advised pop records ever released. Shankar found a modicum of success as a sunglasses-wearing sidekick to rock star Peter Gabriel before embarking on a really strange but interesting musical path that continues to this day.
"Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi" is side one of Who's To Know, his greatest artistic achievement to date. I love Indian music, but I approach it as a Westerner. There are many elements it shares with jazz, and this track is certainly a fusion. Still, I would rather listen to Indian music than spend time learning about its technical rudiments. From time to time, I will study aspects of the music to gain further understanding. But in the end, my enjoyment is totally visceral. So I choose to ignore the fact that Shenkar informs us that for this piece, he created a new Tala cycle based, in the first part, on 5½ beats per cycle and, in the second part, on 4½ beats. Pardon my French, but it's all Greek to me. What I do know is that Shenkar's invention and mastery of the unique double violin, and the rhythmic magic of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, keep me totally engaged for 22:11. My Indian friends assure me I would find the performance even more brilliant if I were able to listen as an Indian. Although I find that hard to believe, it does make me jealous.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky