It's a bit disconcerting (no pun intended) to realize in the 14 years since Ravi Shankar gave his "Concert for World Peace" in London's Royal Albert Hall, that not only has world peace continued to elude us, Shankar himself has become perhaps better known to younger audiences as Norah Jones' dad rather than the towering figure of "world music" he has been since being introduced to mass audiences by way of his relationships with the Beatles in the 60s, though the musical cognoscenti had known of his many accomplishments since at least the early 50s. This fascinating document shows the now elder statesman of Indian music to be surprisingly spry and inventive as he improvises over two "ragas," the Indian musical forms that are somewhat related to our western concept of scales, though the Indian conception is far more complex and includes rhythmic and melodic patterns interwoven with the basic intervallic foundation.
Shankar is surrounded by four additional musicians, whom he lovingly calls his disciples, including stellar tabla (Indian drum) player Zakir Hussain. Watching Shankar hoist his sitar (which looks like a mutant, overgrown guitar) and begin to coax almost human sounding moans and laughs from it will give most music lovers immediate goosebumps. While many untrained western ears may complain that "nothing's happening" in these frequently leisurely explorations, repeated listening will prove that there's sometimes so much happening, and so much that is foreign to our musically subdivided ears, that the spaciousness and inventiveness does not become fully apparent until several repeated listenings. Of course, none but the most educated in Indian ragas is going to fully understand Shankar's genius, but even the dilettante in Eastern musics is going to appreciate the interplay between these fine musicians.
For rock aficianados who point to 18 minute drum solos as the apex of musical achievement, note that this DVD is comprised of exactly two "pieces"--one lasting about 30 minutes, and the second close to an hour. This gives some indication of the depths that Shankar reaches as he delves into the motifs of each raga. Also be aware that that means the DVD only has two chapter stops, which may confound some people used to an "every 5 minutes" indexing.
Shankar's gentle spirit and inquiring intellect shine through this concert, and it will be appreciated by lovers of fine music everywhere.
For a 14 year old document, the 1.33:1 image is surprisingly good. Multi-camera placement captures several different angles on the musicians, and close-ups of Hussain's magically fast handwork and Shankar's facile fingering are fun to watch.
There are two options, a standard LPCM stereo and a Dolby 5.1 mix. The 5.1 mix was obviously more spacious and better separated, with Shankar largely front and center and the supporting musicians off to the side, as befitted their actual placement on the stage. The standard stereo mix is perfectly acceptable, though it sounds compressed, especially on the high end, compared to the Dolby 5.1 mix.
An extremely informative, though unfortunately too short (at about 20 minutes) feature on Shankar provides a lot of background information on Indian music in general, and Shankar's contribution to it in particular. I actually recommend starting with this before watching the concert if you're largely unfamiliar with the vagaries of ragas. It's interesting to see Philip Glass among the interview subjects.
Ravi Shankar holds a wonderfully unique place in the history of late 20th century and beyond international music. His contributions to understanding the musical culture of India cannot be underestimated, and this strangely thrilling yet calming concert provides ample proof that his reputation will only grow with the passing years.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet