|The younger generation of renowned Classical Indian musicians is building bridges to reach Western ears. They embrace tempered scales and harmonies, novel instrumentations and melodies, dub rhythms and Dance Hall grooves yet are deeply trained in the traditional arts. As master disciples of preeminent Indian music gurus, this cadre of often expatriate artists is faced with the formidable task of exploring uncharted terrain in the West.
Son of sitar/surbahar virtuoso Imrat Khan and nephew of the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan, Irshad represents the 8th generation of a 400-year old lineage/legacy called the Imdadkhani gharana. This fillustrious family is considered the most important source of top sitar and bass sitar players in the world. Irshad's great-great grandfather Ustad Sahebdad Khan is credited with the invention of the surbahar, the king of plectrum-plucked stringed instruments on the Indian subcontinent developed from the ancient kachva veena and spanning a range of over four octaves, one octave of which can be pulled/bent from a single of its massive strings. This Imdadkhani gharana is also held largely responsible for the evolution and perfection of the sitar as originally invented by the 13th century poet-musician-saint Ameer Khusroo.
Irshad began public performances at seven and debuted internationally at 13 when he performend at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. At 18, he made history by becoming the youngest soloist ever to perform at the prestigious international music festival "Indian All Night Concert" at the Proms in London. He is fond of a particular vocal playing style called "gayaki-ang" that blends classical forms of Dhrupad, Khyan, Tappa and Thumri. He currently divides his time betwenToronto/ Canada and Bombay/India where he teaches, composes, lectures, demonstrates and conducts intensive workshops and master classes. His readily available discography in the West includes the classcial albums Raga Jensanmohini (India Archive, 1996] and The Magic of Twilight [Naxos, 2000].
|On Awakenings, Irshad steps out of the tradition to join the every-growing WorldBeat phenomenon. He surrounds himself with guitarist Miguel De La Bastide as well as Ron Allen, Deb Sinha, Mario Mello, Dee Long and D. Choudhary and opens the albums's five tracks (10 minutes average each) with the fiery "Gypsy in Red", a heavy-metal sitar attack launched with driving hand percussion groove, palmas and synth sax straight into crossover heartland. The sympathetic sitar strings are furiously at work to make one instrument alone sound like a complete orchestra.
"Power of Grace" opens dramatically with wordless Indian-style male vocalizing, rising like curling smoke in serpentine embellishments from the ashes of intermediary respite before the uptempo groove kicks in and Irshad's surbahar begins to veritably growl in its lower registers.
The main theme here has a boisterous intensity wonderfully augmented by Irshad's extensive string-sliding that maximally exploits the innate flexibility of large-scale tonal slurs possible with the bass sitar. Rather than emphasizing its timbral majesty in hypnotically suspenspended alap mode, Irshad opts for the high-energy assault instead. It isn't quite sitar rock -- no amp-induced distortion for one -- but it's filled with the same kind of go-for-broke let-er-rip ambition that characterizes Sitar Power by Ashwin Batish.
The aptly titled "Joy of Life" recalls a similar vibe on Ali Akbar Khan's seminal crossover album Journey, with the melody emulating a jubilant playfulness riding with youthfull vigor above the syncopated shrum-shrum of Miguel's guitar.
The central highlight is "For you my Love", a mellow House groove with backing guitar and synth effects, drum'n'bass beats and a circular sitar motif filled with great romantic longing. Here the sitar's sinuous charms are truly employed for concentrated meditative/transcendental aim - surprisingly effective in such an ultra-modern setting. This track has great trance-inducing power and can be enjoyed on endless repeat for hours, drifting into the Great Unknown like a mythical schooner shanghaiing you onto an interstellar space trip.
The concluding "Mystic Journey" is based on the waltz-like Rag Bhairavi twirling leisurely above tablas and drones to finish off this recording in a slightly more traditional vein. All in all, a fascinating glimpse into Irshad's development as a WorldMusic ambassador, paralleled perhaps only by Ravi Shankar's daughter Anoushka who, thus far, remains more closely tied to Classical Indian music styles.