Ravi Shankar's wide-ranging musical interests have led him into the field of music for films, in Canada and Europe as well as in India. He is probably best known for the score to the moving trilogy Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu, directed by Satyajit Ray. Taking the poignant theme which he composed in the style of certain Bengali pastoral songs, and which runs through the three pictures as a kind of leitmotiv, Shankar here improvises upon it in three rhythmic modes, of 7, 6, and 8 beats respectively. In between the theme is heard on the flute, as it was so appropriately in the films. For this performance, instead of the bamboo flute Bud Shank plays in Indian style, with notable success, on his western instrument.
In this exciting musical first, we find the lively Ravi Shankar branching out in a new direction. As an experiment in combining jazz with Indian melodic and rhythmic modes, it comes of surprisingly well, and may well open a new road for the future at a time when many composers and jazz musicians seem to have less interest in harmony than in new conceptions of melody and rhythm. Although he does not perform himself, Ravi composed and conducted the tune that forms a springboard for the improvisation, using an Indian pentatonic raga, Dhani, which strikes him as a characteristic one for jazz. The Indian instruments used are all percussive-tabla, djolak, damaru and manjira.
The piece was recorded at the time of the great fires which devastated large areas of Los Angeles in the fall of 1961, and reflects the emotion and excitement of the holocaust.
The raga Kirunvani belongs to the Carnatic system of South India. The gulf between the Hindustani system of the North and Carnatic system of the South started around the 12th century. Although fundamentally, there is a lot of similarity, they differ in presentation. They have different set of ragas and the same ragas and talas with different names. ravi Shankar introduced many Carnatic Ragas into his own Hindustani system, particularly for instrumental music. On this piece, the improvisation begins immediately around a gat in medium Teental of 16 beats, and builds to a second gat in Teental, this time in dhruta laya, or fast tempo.
The final selection presents Ravi Shankar in the intimate and introspective mood which Indian music express to perfection. The ideal classical performance of raga includes a long alap, or slow improvisation in free rhythm, during which the artist leads himself and his listeners further and further into the spiritual mood he is creating. Gradually he exposes a grand panorama of tone, unique to the raga he is playing, ane it is only after he has shown the whole melodic landscape in utmost detail that a more organized rhythm begins to emerge in the jor.
Rageshri is an evening raga, and can be thought of as a major scale with a minor seventh which omits the fifth altogether, and leaves out the second in its ascending form. The major seventh is used occasionally. For this recording two tanpuras were used and sound the fourth and sixth as well as the tonic of the raga scale. Jhala is omitted in this presentation, but a short improvisation is developed with the tabla around a beautiful gat in Rupak tal of seven beats, bringing to a close sensitive demonstration of a raga performed in the finest classical style by Ravi Shankar, a man who is not only a great virtuoso but a great musician as well, and one who is as bold a musical pioneer as he is a superlative exponent of the rich tradition of Indian classical music.