Decades after being lionized by '60s stoners, Indian music remains a daunting proposition for Westerners who crave instant gratification rather than earned rewards. These spacious, reflective traditions are indeed somewhat demanding and call for a bit of study on the part of the listener, but their pellucid beauty is nonetheless apparent even to the untutored ear. Indian musicians begin studying as small children, immersing themselves in ancient modes, instruments, and disciplines under the strict supervision of master teachers. As young adults, the more gifted adepts move on to a public form of apprenticeship, learning how to respond to other players and perform jazz-like improvisations while adhering to time-honored classical structures. The artists on this set are among the greatest of the genre, but despite the title, all three actually hail from Pakistan. One of them is even fairly prominent in qawwali (Muslim devotional music) circles. The sitarist Ustad Akbar Khan is a peerless virtuoso with a precise attack and an astonishing degree of musical imagination (ustad is an honorific granted to only the greatest Muslim musicians -- pandit is the Hindu equivalent). He is given ardent support by Jan Ul Hassan and the great Ustad Iltaf Hussain Tafo Khan on tabla (a type of hand drum capable of a wide variety of tones). The tunes range from soothing to electrifying and are excellent examples of how the raag form should be presented and executed. But the liner notes supply no information about the times of day associated with the works, which makes it difficult for a beginner to grasp their intended mood and context.
AllMusic Review by Christina Roden