Ustad Aashish Khan and New Shanti: A Treat of Indo-Jazz
Fans of jazz were treated to a special performance of Indo-jazz this week, which even crossed other boundaries and included bossa nova and reggae blended in!
The group performing at the B-Flat jazz bar in Bangalore featured Ustad Aashish Khan and his project, The New Shanti. Ustad Aashish Khan is the son of the late great sarod virtuoso Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (I have had the honour of listening to him perform live in New York city in 1994).
Ustad Aashish Khan’s new project is named after his earlier fusion group Shanti, formed in the US in 1969 with a mix of Western jazz musicians and Indian artistes such as Zakir Hussain on the tabla (see the early video recording).
For the Bangalore performance this week, he was accompanied by his nephew Shiraz Ali Khan, grandson of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Shiraz heads his own fusion group called Indian Blue, with Arindam Bhattacharya (vocals), Avijit Sarkar (drums), Bachospati Chakraborty (bass guitar), Dishari Chakraborty (santoor and keyboards) and Arijit Tagore (tabla).
Ustad Aashish Khan was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006 in the world music category for his album “Golden Strings of the Sarod.” He is a recipient of the government of India’s highest honour in performing arts, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He is also an adjunct professor of Indian classical music at the California Institute of the Arts, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Khan has been on board the musical score of movies from India (Apur Sansar, Parash Pathar, Jalsha Ghar) and Hollywood (Gandhi, The Man Who Would be King, A Passage to India). He gave his debut public performance at the age of 13, and eventually played with a range of international artistes: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Alice Coltrane, Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah. One of his more recent projects is “Shringar” with Andrew McLean and other New Orleans musicians such as Tim Green and Jason Marsalis.
The Bangalore performance lasted for just two hours but was packed with a superb range of instrumental textures from the seven musicians. The elderly and distinguished Khan drew loud rounds of applause for his compositions dedicated to Latin women, women across the world, and even mountains of the world!
The pieces “Under the Stars” and “My Sweet Lady” were particularly romantic, with soaring melodic lines punctuated by masterful solos on the sarod as well as jugalbandis (duets) with the shimmering santoor.
The track “Two Shadows” was named after the dual nature of man and woman, or the inside and outside. The piece “Lady in Rio” began in bossa nova style, and the track inspired by Salt Lake City in Utah began with a reggae beat.
“We have delicate instruments here – 25 strings on the sarod and 116 strings on the santoor,” joked Khan, as the musicians paused on occasion to tune their instruments.
The track “Pilgrimage” was particularly haunting, and the song “Panchatantra” was devoted to the city of New Orleans, a major fountain of jazz. “In New Orleans, every night is a party night, people do not sleep till 5 or 6 am,” Khan observed, drawing out the stark contrast with Indian cities where most music pubs are required by law to close by the absurdly early hour of 11 pm.
The last piece had elements of funk-jazz and ended in the hallmark fast-paced jhala of Hindustani classical music. The sight of the elder and younger Khans trading melodies on the sarod – one right-handed, the other left-handed – was sheer joy to behold.
The next performances by Ustad Aashish Khan will be purely Indian classical, which will be a treat again for music fans!