As if playing one violin within the Western art music tradition wasn't difficult enough, the virtuoso L. Shankar has made it his trade to both sing and play a customized double violin within the contexts of Hindustani, Carnatic, Western, and experimental musical sensibilities. On this 1990 ECM release, Pancha Nadai Pallavi, he lays down two tracks, the first without percussion and the second in collaboration with Zakir Hussain on tabla and Vikku Vinayakram on ghatam. Caroline also accompanies the L. Shankar with the drone setting sruthi (a small one-note hand-pumped reed organ) and talam (a pair of small hand cymbals). With the first track L. Shankar performs the ragam "Sankarabharanam" (a ragam is the Carnatic equivalent to the Hindustani raga). For nearly 30 minutes he elegantly articulates an innumerable series of variations on traditional forms, melodies, and rhythms. The double violin allows him to imitate the sounds of a multi-octave string ensemble. On the CD's second cut a serpentine nine and one-half beat rhythmic cycle, the Mahalakshmi Tala, provides the temporal framework for the performance. An original creation by L. Shankar himself, this tala is realized by tabla superstar Zakir Hussain and the celebrated ghatam (clay water pot) player Vikku Vinayakram. Both of these percussive masters draw a myriad of tones and conjure up a fortified stew of rhythmic cadences from their respective instruments. In sum, Shankar's Pancha Nadai Pallavi is a smashing CD that represents virtuosic creativity and experimentation at work in both solo and collaborative contexts.
AllMusic Review by John Vallier