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Shankar takes only half a show to steal it

April 28, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

It's been nearly a half-century since Ravi Shankar almost single-handedly began to bring the pleasures and the complexities of Indian classical music to the West. His '50s collaborations with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and his appearances at three primal '60s and '70s events -- the Monterey Pop Festival, the Woodstock Festival and the Concert for Bangladesh -- transformed the international view of Indian music from one of colorful exoticism to captivating, virtuosic artistry.

Shankar's performance at Disney Hall on Wednesday night, almost 40 years after he opened the Kinnara school of music in Los Angeles and performed at Monterey, was a remarkable display of creative continuity. At 86, his inventiveness and his dexterity continue to be remarkable.

He only appeared in the program's second half, playing with his daughter, Anoushka Shankar, and tabla artist Tanmoy Bose. But the clarity of his musical choices, his fascinating use of inference and implication, were the product of a mature imagination adept at reaching into the heart of a creative passage.

Performing a pair of evening ragas, Maru Behag and Pilu, Shankar's musical choices occasionally recalled the late drawings of Picasso, with their capacity to encapsulate a full life's experience into the arc of a single line.

At other times, however, especially while tossing phrases back and forth with Anoushka, he also seemed determined to verify his undiminished technical skills. And he did so convincingly, often with passages so rapid, so filled with fiery invention, that they drew smiles of amazement from his talented daughter.

To her credit, she often responded with fast-fingered passages of her own, which he in turn acknowledged with his own beaming nods of approval. More frequently, however, Anoushka seemed content to answer with paraphrases, double his melodies at a lower octave or offer accompaniment support to her father's highflying improvisational excursions.

The first half of the program had provided ample opportunity to display the eclecticism that has begun to expand her vision beyond the parameters of classical Indian music.

Like her father's early encounters with the Beatles, Anoushka has begun to reach out to players in other genres -- impressively so in her recent album "Rise." For this performance, though, she was content to contain her adventurousness within the Indian lexicon via compositions for a 10-piece ensemble juxtaposing instruments of the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions with vocals from Swarnima Gusain and 17-year-old Aditya Prakash.

But the evening belonged to Ravi Shankar, so much so that the first half's players who did not perform after intermission chose to sit at the side of the stage to hear his performance, understandably eager to embrace every possible moment with one of the world's great musical artists.

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