Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & VK

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nicneufeld
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Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & VK

Postby nicneufeld » Sun Feb 20, 2011 2:45 am

Hello gents (and ladies),

I'm new to the sitar, and vice versa, in that my first is on its way to me over the next week and I've only been really cramming on ICM for the past couple months (although interested for the last ten years).

The top three sitar greats of the past century really seem to be down to Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, and Vilayat Khan (forgive me for not Panditing and Ustading and all that, I mean great respect but I've not yet sorted out who is a "pandit" and who is an "ustad" yet...not sure what Mr. Banerjee's religious heritage was!). I've been soaking up as much of their music as I can, but for those of you with many more years behind you in this study, I'm interested in how one might simply sum up their respective "styles". I know about the physical sitar differences, and their biographies, but as players, specifically. Pt. Shankar and Banerjee were Alauddin Khan disciples so I'm assuming there would be some similarities. Just curious. I'm most familiar with Ravi Shankar, as most newbies would likely be!

To me, Ravi Shankar is my favorite of the three, and seems to have a sort of creative and almost Western spark to his playing...he would make a good jazz musician, in some ways. Interesting rhythmic aspects. Ustad Vilayat Khan seems to have a serious overtone to his playing. Very technically impressive, but not as colourful sometimes. And the standout for me on what I have heard of Nikhil Banerjee is plenty of chikari and fast playing.

But I haven't heard much, so a few songs that aren't indicative of their overall style may have given me wrong impressions. Anybody else have ideas on what sets these three apart from each other stylistically?

many thanks!

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby ragamala » Sun Feb 20, 2011 4:29 am

Welcome! I hope you and your new sitar have many happy hours and years together.

This is the sort of topic that can lead to some, er, debate, if we get in too much detail, folks do tend to get aligned with one player or the other. But this only illustrates that there is a definite distiinction between their styles.

However, any differences have to be weighed against the background of them all playing similar formats, the standard these days sitar performance. Ie, alap stressing raga, jor and jhala demonstrating technical work in faster work on the raga, then a gat or gats bringing in the tala aspect, and the various rhythmic consequences.

All three players are or were brilliant technically, and in each part of the performance.

But in brief, most people would agree that Ravi Shankar could be regarded as delighting in rhythmic aspects of performance, whilst Vilayat Khan had a more formal attitude to the raga exposition, and developed a style of playing that is generally thought of as a singing style. Nikhil Banerjee stands somewhere between these, or shall I say at the third point of a triangle. Although he had training from the same guru as Ravi Shankar, as you say, his teaching was modified to take account of his different personality. His playing shows a distinct character, a unique singing style augmented by deep raga development (including on the base string, which, as you will have learned, Vilayat Khan didn't have).

In a nutshell you might hear said that Ravi has rhythm, Vilayat's sitar sang, and Nikhil had soul.

Just to take up one point - from what you said regarding Nikhil Banerjee's chikari work and fast playing, probably most people wouldn't pick this out as a distinctive feature, although he was no slouch. I would say for me his fast playing has a superior ability to retain its musicality, an additional distinguishing feature. But as I said all these had great technical skills, and no doubt sitar experts on the forum here could elucidate further. It's notable that Shahid Parvez, who plays essentially Vilayat Khan style, has developed fast work and chikari strike to a more extreme level, despite coming from the "singing" style background.

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby coughcapkittykat » Sun Feb 20, 2011 5:57 am

I'm still trying to get in to Nikhil Banerjee, I just don't hear the soul in his playing to be honest. Same for Vilayat I'm afraid to say.

Balaram Pathak really fascinates me. I've never heard anyone use (pinched?) harmonics like he did. I really love his laid back and quite slow exploration of ragas, he strikes me as one of the few players that really conveys emotion in to whatever he played. You rarely hear him doing massive super fast taans. I can't really explain it but his distinctive style and unusual techniques place him easily equal the three listed here, although his recorded catalogue is obviously much smaller.

Also I find the contrast between Shujaat Khan and Vilayat Khan very interesting. I much prefer Shujaat, again because he seems more emotive rather than technical.

Sorry if I'm derailing the thread, just wanted to throw my opinion of these three out there as I can't really comment on their stylistic differences with any qualification.

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby Lars » Sun Feb 20, 2011 6:22 am

Nikhil Banerjee was a "musicians musician". He was the reason I started playing, a total master but maybe it doesn't hook everyone that way which is cool with me, I doubt he cared about titles.....Sitar popularity in the West owes much to Ravi Shankar obviously who is very talented obviously but even more he is a good entertainer as well, something sorely lacking in most of ICM as it's presented outside the rasika circles anyway. That ability to entertain is what attracted a lot of people, Ravi would bring you along with him and wait for you if needed. Nikhil Banerjee would totally be absorbed by the music and if you got left behind well that was your problem but my memories of hearing and seeing him are without compare.
Balaram Pathak was good and unique, Abdul Halim Jafferkhan also used those harmonic techniques and may have pioneered them? (According to the lesson book he wrote). 2 cents worth here indeed, I should be in bed.... :!:

Lars

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http://www.raincitymusic.com

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby coughcapkittykat » Sun Feb 20, 2011 7:14 am

Lars wrote:Balaram Pathak was good and unique, Abdul Halim Jafferkhan also used those harmonic techniques and may have pioneered them?


Interesting, I'll have to check him out. Thanks Lars.

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby chris thill » Sun Feb 20, 2011 2:43 pm

Now that someone mentioned Balaram Pathak:
I have found a CD of him and I like it very much. It was done at Radio France in March 1986 under the supervision of Patrick Moutal, with Vinode Pathak (a relative perhaps?) on tabla. The pieces played are ragas Bilaskhani Todi, Kinari Bhairavi and Mistra Pilu. What struck me is that the playing is very relaxed and concentrates on the development on melody, in a very "anti-show-off" style. In particular, the tempo remains steadily moderate throughout. I must say that I don't like it too much when the speed becomes frenetic at the end of a performance, as is sometimes the case. To me Pathak's playing feels more "in depth".

I even came across a video on Youtube which is related to this recording:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liWjsRRdliA

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby nicneufeld » Sun Feb 20, 2011 3:08 pm

I probably should qualify, lest my statement be taken to derogate any other great players...I'm not asserting that the three above were THE best three, maybe more just the ones most often cited and most famous, from what I've read. As is typical there are often great players that lack the fame of others. Jimi Hendrix is likely going to be much higher up in "guitar greats" than Terry Kath, for example, but in my estimation of pure playing, Kath was in many ways a better player (although a much less influential one).

Shankar seemed to have a certain type of personality on his side...as Lars said, a true entertainer, the kind of guy who, while a gifted player, was particularly gifted in other areas, basically, "marketing to the West". Meeting and collaborating with Yehudi Menuhin, and George Harrison, those were the things that really launched ICM to a good portion of the West. It seems silly, but if George Harrison hadn't found a sitar amongst the stage props on the movie "Help", and if Ravi Shankar turned up his nose at this spoiled, rich, untutored pop musician and refused to teach him, the story of ICM in the West may have been very different. There's a prideful side of me that wishes I could say I got into ICM initially from very serious study of the masters, but I'll admit...my introduction was Beatles albums, and later an old documentary I checked out from the library about Ravi Shankar.

Any recommendations on what I should try to seek out to listen to the best of Nikhil Banerjee?

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby ragamala » Sun Feb 20, 2011 5:02 pm

nicneufeld wrote:Any recommendations on what I should try to seek out to listen to the best of Nikhil Banerjee?


To get a feel for why people like myself, and Lars, as you will have gathered from his post, respected, admired, even loved Nikhil Banerjee, I think you could look for the live concert recordings. Fortunately there is a good number of these available on CD from eg Chhanda Dhara and Raga Recordsd. There's also an increasing number of unreleased concert recordings available online. It is in his concert peformances that he shines. Although he is quoted as saying he was uncomfortable with studio recording, that shouldn't put you off some of the older LPS and CDs.

A 'best of' is hard to recommend, for the simple reason that Nikhil never in my opinion gave a poor performance. It just wasn't in his nature.

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby John » Sun Feb 20, 2011 9:21 pm

You should also check out Ustad Rais Khan. There's a link to some concert bootlegs on this forum somewhere and I've had them on heavy rotation since I downloaded them. Incredible!
I only really listen to 3 musicians these days: Vilayat Khansaheb, Rais Khansaheb & Amir Khansaheb. How boring am I? :lol:

As much as I adore Pt. Nikhil Bannerjee's playing, there's something about it that I find upsetting. Sometimes to the point of tears. :?
"Truth cannot be taught, truth can only be discovered"
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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby Raga_Mala » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:27 pm

Great question and I love the respectful tone of this thread so far. Merely a few comments to help put the discussion in a perspective (read: MY OWN perspective. Not authoritative).

As for "Pandit"s and "Ustad"s, Nikhil was a Hindu and so would be called "Pandit" however he eschewed this title, did not care to be called Pandit, or even have the -ji suffixed to his name. His public persona had no ego whatsoever. This is polar opposite to Ud. Vilayat Khan who is well known for his monumental arrogance and huge personal pride (he is not alone among Indian artists and intellectuals in this trait...in some ways it is cultural). Both were unbelievably great artists, however.

As for the playing styles:

It is true that Ravi-ji is a great entertainer, and something one must realize is that his first training was NOT in classical music. It was in dance--and not in classical dance, but in the semi-classical dance presented for Western consumption by his brother's troupe. This form of dance, AND the music that accompanied it, would have exposed Ravi-ji to far more folk, popular and quasi-Western sounds than somebody weaned purely on Sangeet. Those rhythms and elements found their way into his soul. For that reason, a Ravi-ji rendering will ALWAYS be unmistakable. Particularly, when he gets to fast gats, Raviji tends to play in phrases--his rhythmic abandon has breaths and breaks, eighth-rests and syncopations. Most instrumentalists, when the time comes for fast taans usually play even rhythms (or even rhythms punctuated by chikari strokes) until the time comes for a tihai then, tihai, tihai, tihai. Ravi-ji is constantly varying the rhythms, not just "laykari" in the sense of technical tala-play, but actually using rhythms to make the music more accessible. Again, Ravi (particularly in fast gats) plays in "phrases" where most instrumentalists play in paragraphs or chapters...

Nikhil's overarching stylistic strength to me was sweetness and general concord. In a Nikhil Banerjee rendering, not one note is out of place, everything seems aligned harmoniously in a way which goes beyond the technical. For this reason, I have always felt that Mr Banerjee shined best in renderings of honey-sweet ragas like Manj Khamaj, although even in deep and serious ragas this element of sweetness shined through. His playing is much like his persona to me, totally unostentatious, unassuming, without ego. Truly the music of a yogi-saint, I think.

To me Ud Vilayat Khan is a huge, serious and imposing figure. Kind of a Wagner or Beethoven of the sitar. His sadhana was so intense that he did earn the right to be respected almost as much as he thought he did. His playing is dead serious. It is interesting that coughcapkittykat described UVK as "technical" rather than "emotive." My interpretation has always been that UVK was emotive, but in a quintessentially Indian way. That is, his emotions are turned inwards and focused into pure meditative gravity, rather than expressed outwards. Indian aesthetics are quite different from ours, and merely because someone's style is staid and not flamboyant does not mean they are not emotive. I too GREATLY enjoy other masters of this family, in particular Shujaat Khan (not nearly as serious as his father but he makes music sooo sexually charged and beautifully erotic) and Imrat Khan (surbahar MASTER).

Best quote of the thread so far:
nicneufeld wrote: It seems silly, but if George Harrison hadn't found a sitar amongst the stage props on the movie "Help", and if Ravi Shankar turned up his nose at this spoiled, rich, untutored pop musician and refused to teach him, the story of ICM in the West may have been very different.

I COMPLETELY AGREE
"Not all is good that bears an ancient name,
Nor need we every modern poem blame;
Wise men approve the good, or new, or old;
The foolish critic follows where he's told."
-Kalidas, Malavikagnimitra I.i.2
Trans. Arthur Ryder

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby nicneufeld » Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:54 am

I had forgotten about the dance troupe background to Raviji, that makes perfect sense, with his more Western bent. Much like Akira Kurosawa, who was accused by his Japanese contemporaries as being too Western, he was the perfect agent to bring it to the West.

I just finished a 21 min gat by Vilayat Khan called Maand Bhairav. Huge emphasis on chikari, very pulsing and steady, breathtaking but complete unlike Shankar to my ears! The tabla player, whoever he was, was fantastic.

Edit: and I agree, Imrat Khan, in the scant few recordings I've heard, is phenomenal! Those low growling tones make the surbahar quite a temptation to this Western bass player, but one instrument at a time.

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby Stephen David » Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:31 am

> Fortunately there is a good number of these available on CD
> from eg Chhanda Dhara and Raga Recordsd


I've found that ICM internet radio at http://www.musicindiaonline.com is a good place to start when you want to hear music from indian musicians from artists you arent familiar with before buying the record.

Its free and has a huge collection of albums and artists to choose from, including Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Nikhil Banerjee and many many others.

So if there is an artist I don't know anything about, I listen to him on musicindiaonline, and it helps to determine which CD I might want to buy.

You can also make playlists of different artists playing the same raga, for comparison. For instance, I have a playist of these (Ravi, Nikhil, Vilayat) and other artists playing raga Piloo, which is one of my favorites.
:D

just a thought.

Stephen

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby nicneufeld » Mon Feb 21, 2011 2:01 pm

Stephen David wrote:For instance, I have a playist of these (Ravi, Nikhil, Vilayat) and other artists playing raga Piloo, which is one of my favorites.


Mine too! Menuhin/Shankar playing Raga Piloo was the piece that hooked me into Indian music 10 years ago, and its been my favorite ever since, over a decade of latent ICM interest. Since I've only recently stepped more deeply into the music, I've recently heard a number of other adaptations of Piloo/Pilu, and it is very interesting to note the similarities and disparities between performances. Last night I listened to Raga Piloo by Ali Akbar Khan...many similarities, but many differences naturally. Sort of like hearing Duke Ellington and John Coltrane play "In A Sentimental Mood", then hearing Ella Fitzgerald on the same tune.

I've been listening to music via Pandora...quite easy to set up a good Indian classical radio station, and they have quite the library.

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby Stephen David » Mon Feb 21, 2011 3:36 pm

I love the back and forth exchange between Shankar and Menuhin. I don't know how to explain it -- sometimes its like dancing, sometimes like sparring.

But to this day, every time I put that version of Piloo on, there are places where it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end!
:D

I've tried pandora in the past also... dont remember why I didnt go back. Seems like they have a lot of commercials that interrupt you. musicindiaonline has stuff in the sidebars and can give you a hard time when you log in (pop-ups that block the login form). But once you are in, there is nothing to interrupt you.

Anyway, even though I can hear distinct differences between the playing styles of these three, I can't really articulate it well.

To me, Ravi is more exciting while the others are more spiritual and meditative. Not that Ravi isn't spiritual and meditative, or that Nikhil and Vilayat aren't exciting. But Ravi seems to have a terrific amount of energy throughout his music and thats what seems to resonate with me.

Even when he plays these long slow bass notes. It isn't just peaceful drift-away stuff. It reminds me of a tiger growling and waiting to pounce. All this pentup energy about to burst out.

Stephen

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Re: Distilling the style differences: Shankar, Banerjee, & V

Postby nicneufeld » Mon Feb 21, 2011 9:53 pm

Pandora depends a lot on the client...the ads are much more annoying on the iPhone app, but they are (as yet) almost non-existant on the Roku (set top box) channel client. Also, it occasionally flips out and queues up inappropriate music, like, say, The Moon of Manakoora or other Hawaiian classics. I love a good slide-laden (or should I say meend-ful?) song from Alfred Apaka as much as the next guy, but not if I'm specifically wanting to listen to ICM! :D I'll have to check that other site out, particularly if one can direct ones listening towards specific artists.

I agree completely with your summation of Ravi Shankar...great expression of what I too feel. Seems he has an almost impish vivacity in his playing, lots of dynamics, and quite playful, which is what gives his duets such personality. Ut. Vilayat Khan seems more brooding and thunderous, like some ancient God of War that learned to play sitar to while away the time in his twilight years.

On the West Meets East album I can't help but feel sorry for Menuhin. For any Western musician, particularly at that time, it must have been tremendously difficult to do what he did, and so well. Classical musicians, in particular, are often stereotyped to being less adroit in improvisational circles than, for instance, jazz musicians, but I'm amazed how well he holds his own with Ravi. The man must've had a wonderful ear, to do those call and response pieces so well.

(....or they wrote it all out, I don't know! :) )


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