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Anoushka Shankar

Date 10 August 2006 Venue Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer Kulpreet Sasan

How Anoushka Shankar's Festival Vancouver concert at the Chan Centre fit into the theme of "Viva Italia: The Music of Italy" is a conceit that should occupy many hours of some very creative geographers.

Perhaps Italians have harboured a love for Indian Classical music and Ravi Shankar is to Italy what David Hasselhoff is to Germans ( without the shame). Such quibbles aside, no one at the sold-out concert cared how the daughter of the famed Indian Sitar God got to Vancouver; they just wanted to enjoy the evening.

The first song began promisingly enough. It featured a rhythm transition from a 6-beat pattern to a 16-beat pattern Ms. Shankar along with Tommoy Bose on tabla, Leo Dombecki on piano, Kevin Cooper on bass, Ravichandra Kulur on flute and Pirashanna Thevarajah on precussion performed admirably enough. They played well together and hinted at some potential future brilliance.

Nonetheless, the song also signalled all that would become increasingly irritating about this concert. As can be seen from the listed musicians, the performers blended elements of Classical Indian and contemporary Western music to some interesting effects, but most of the tunes produced in this manner were rather forgettable.

Ms. Shankar and Mr. Cooper played off each other impressively on the sitar and piano. Although interesting, the interplay of the sounds and timbre were not in themselves interesting. Both instruments were played in a similar register and mixed poorly, especially when surrounded by a flood of sounds.

The problem was further exacerbated with the addition of Nick Able who processed a variety of sounds on an Apple laptop. Leaving aside the sound for a moment, it must be stated that watching someone click a mouse on stage is an inherently dull experience, especially when ontrasted with musicians playing a fevered and frantic pace.

The banality of the experience is almost overwhelming. Add to this this the types of artificial soundscapes and nature calls that although somewhat interesting did little to stimulate a deeper sense of wonder. Perhaps this is a matter of an artist uncomfortable carrying a whole show on her own prodigious talent, but these kinds of soundscapes obscured the magic that was being crafted on stage. And honestly does Krishna really need a pseudo-techno beat to be moved by your devotional verses?

For the most part the sounds seemed akin to something to be found in a discotheque where stoned kids could groove to way-out-there sounds. Although interesting the uninitiated, they're really quite dreary in this context. Does Mozart really need a disco beat? Similarly it's uncertain if Indian Classical music needs this form to survive. But perhaps this is a first step, and with refinement we might be able to experience a more nuanced blend.

This lack of refinement was perfectly represented by the attempted fusion of the bass guitar to the Indian music context. Its presence added depth and volume to the stage sound. Unfortunately, the instrument lacked agility and in many parts seemed intrusive in many parts. This lack of dexterity became much more pronounced in the particularly adventurous sections of the improvisations. Often bass notes seemed off and did not sync up with the ensemble. They would arrive late and even on time would be searching for a place to fit in.

This litany of complaints should not overshadow what after all was quite the expression of enormous talent on stage. The musicians performed brilliantly and communicated exquisistively with one another. The solos were sharp and to the point and each built upon the other. Of particular note was the vocalist Mr. Aditya Prakash whose soulful whose rich voice was a highlight every time he was onstage. Furthermore Mr. Thevarajah was marvelous especially when he and Mr. Bose traded vocal rhythms with each other.

The musicians were on the whole highly skilled and for the most part in sync with one another. It's just that despite all that talent they produced very few truly transcendental moments. They were entertaining enough, and good enough, but lacked the wow factor.

All of these problems were brought to the forefront with the encore when Ms. Shankar, Mr. Bose, Mr. Thevarajah and Mr. Kulur returned on stage as a Classical Indian quartet. The quartet started simply and brilliantly. Ms. Shankar's plying was clear and, her solos were on the mark, building on the work of the others and carrying it to a natural crescendo.

This was flawless playing. This was music worth of the divine. Perhaps the concert had to proceed in the way. With many pieces of the banal so the discovery of the divine could truly be such a transcendental experience. In the end the ovations kept coming. All had been forgiven. We had been transported.

The opening act of Dharamkasa also played with the notion of fusion of musical traditions. The local trio of Alcvin Ramos, Tarun Nayar, and Andrew Kim played mixture that created genuine new sounds. This is avant-garde, the confluence of local influences. And instrumentalist/ instrument maker/ mad scientist is the kind of eclectic genius who needs to be celebrated and has unlimited top-end potential. Look for big things from them in the future.

© 2006 Kulpreet Sasan