Neela Bhagwat / Hafeez Ahmed Khan / Ustad Hafeez Ahmed Khan

North Indian Vocal Music [Saydisc]

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Usted Hafeez Ahmed Khan is a top-rank practitioner of Hindustani music. Born in 1926, he practiced intensely to develop his versatile technique. Naturally a baritone, on this disc he explores his full range from where his voice bottoms out up to high notes that would sound silly in any other context. He contributes two longish (18-minute) ragas to the album. His alaps (the slow beginning of a raga) are steady and strangely reassuring. His sargams (the fast solfege part of the raga) are tongue twisters ably handled, though his voice sounds a trifle strained. His tans (quick melody on a single vowel) sounds rather thin, unfortunately. Khan was 65 when this music was recorded, and it is possible that his voice was starting to betray the inevitable ravages of age. He still has a formidable quaver when he runs the scales, though. Neela Bhagwat is a singer and a scholar and a master of the Gwalior style of singing. She has a pleasant mezzo-soprano voice. Her ragas are in the six- to eight-minute range and are a bit easier to digest than Khan's as a result. This is probably not the best album for a beginner curious about Indian classical music to start with, but with its variety of voices and track lengths, it wouldn't be a bad one either.

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