While India's many drums, cymbals, bells, wooden clappers, double reed horns, and members of the lute family all reach back through many centuries toward the very dawn of civilization, the simple bamboo flute is emblematic of Lord Krishna himself. As India's greatest 20th century musical ambassador to the world, Ravi Shankar is to be commended for having conscientiously produced an album devoted to the master drummers of India as well as this marvelous collection of classical and folk ensembles featuring the North Indian bamboo flute, known as the bansri or bansuri. This instrument has six finger holes; the South Indian venu has seven or eight. The album features master flutist Vijay Raghav Rao, with accompaniments by tabla master Alla Rakha and various unnamed sitar players. The two ragas ("Raga Malkauns: Alap and Ghat in Jhaptal" and "Meditational Raga of Northern India") are divinely beautiful and soothing to the nervous system. Wedged between the ragas, "Suite for Two Sitars and Indian Folk Ensemble" seems to be more deeply rooted in antiquity. It feels like an ethnomusicological field recording, and some of the tropes bring to mind the music and culture of Southeast Asia. This is a reminder that India resounds with musical elements from regions as diverse as Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. With "Suite for Two Sitars and Indian Folk Ensemble," those who expect all Indian music to sound like uniformly mellifluous, stereophonically recorded ragas are in for a surprise.
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