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Ancient Court Raga Traditions

WA 2003CD WA 2003CD

Subtitled: The Pathak Gharana, Dhrupad Ragas On Surbahar. Performed by Pandit Ashok Pathak (surbahar). Ancient Court Raga Traditions is comprised of two long tracks: "Raga Malkauns" and "Raga Bagesri," recorded in 2000. Only part of India's noblest classical instrumental traditions have been adequately documented on recordings, beginning with sitarist Imdad Khan in 1905. With the compact disc, raga performances could expand from pioneering 4-minute excerpts on 78 rpm discs to span well beyond an hour on CD, allowing full development and style to unfold. One vital court style remains in a fragmentary way: the ancient art of dhrupad, characterized by slowly singing and playing, which favored the arrhythmic alap section, based on the ancient Vedic chant. Too few of these family-based traditions survived the ending of royal patronage. Amongst them are the Pathaks, representing a musical lineage through 5 generations of dhrupad singers, veena players and sitarists, with the current generation including a composer and tabla player. Balaram Pathak introduced the use of harmonics on sitar with meend, heard on his one CD. This unique practice has been further explored by (his son) Ashok, who uses it extensively, along with thematic playing on the sympathetic strings. Before beginning a raga, he dwells on these strings, at times playing two simultaneously, creating harmonies which he adopted after having heard it in pre-Renaissance Western music (in polyphonic works by Perotin, Josquin des Prez, etc.). The recording took place over two afternoons. Each raga was played through once and without any changes or edits, and the decision was made to play "Raga Malkauns" on the second afternoon. As Balaram Pathak recorded one short work on surbahar, these performances further reveal the rare court tradition Pandit Ashok represents, its continuation despite the odds of a diminishing public which prefers khyal, and the musical contributions made by the performer himself to further their lineage.