July 28, 2016

Ashish Khan: California Concert [WPS 21459] released in 1967 by World Pacific Records in the US

Ashish Khan was born in Maihar in 1939. He is the oldest son of Ali Akbar Khan and is still touring internationally.

This record by Ashish Khan is part of a library of Indian music published by World Pacific Records in the 1960s and very early 1970s. Almost all of them were produced by Richard Bock, who founded World Pacific as a subsidiary of Pacific Jazz Records.

This is a concert recorded in Los Angeles (hence the title of the album) and consists of one raga (with the alap section apparently edited out) which is broken up over the two sides.

Tabla is by the great tabla maestro Alla Rakha

side one:
Raga Bilashkhani Todi: gat in slow teentaal

side two:
Raga Bilashkhani Todi: gat in slow and fast teentaal










(playable on computers and some portable devices)

(after converting, a "red book" standard file suitable for burning a CDR)

(highest quality possible compressed file for playing on portable music players)

July 25, 2016

S Balachander: Carnatic Veena [HMV HTC 8176] recorded in 1970 and released on cassette in India in 1991

Sundaram Balachander was born January 18, 1927 in Mylapore and died on April 13, 1990.

He was both a prolific recording artist as well as having a career as a film actor.

The internet is not exactly rife with a lot of details of his musical career, given what a popular performer he was. It appears that he was self-taught on the veena and could also play sitar and tabla well enough to perform on All India Radio. I can't think of any other major Indian musician who was completely self taught and did not come out of a guru-shishya tradition.

This recording was made in 1970 and eventually released on cassette in 1991. It features compositions by Thyagaraja.

For a recording from 1970 originating from India, this has a remarkably smooth and warm tone. There is an occasional saying among hard-core audiophiles that no audiophile recording has ever been made in India. That's bit harsh, but it reveals a difference of opinion as to what good sound is, between so-called Western "audiophiles" and the musicians, engineers and listening public in India. One thing I have noticed is that Carnatic recordings are often appreciably of lower sound quality when compared to Hindustani albums. That might have something to do with where in the country the better recording studios have historically been located. Either way, this was recorded with care -- 45 years later, we are still enjoying the efforts of these musicians and engineers!


Side A:
Bantu Reethi (Raga Hamsanadham in Adi Taal)
Nannu Vidachi (Raga Reetigowla in Chapu Taal)
Melukovayya (Raga Bowli in Jampai Taal)

Side B:
Ninnuvina Sukhamu (Raga Thodi in Rupak Taal)

Mridangam: Palghat Raghu
Kanjeera: C.K. Shyamsunder
Tambura: R Krishnan


Here is a video of S Balachander performing (unknown date)









(high resolution file for computer and certain playback devices)


(standard "Redbook CD" standard file suitable for burning a CDR)

(highest possible quality compressed file for playing in portable players)



July 22, 2016

Brij Bhushan Kabra: Lure of the Desert [ECSD 2993] (1985)

Brij Bhushan Kabra  was born in 1937 in Jodhpur. He is not as well known as he should be, but his records hold some well-deserved interest for a devoted listener. First of all he has produced undeniably charming performances on standard guitar, for which he apparently was a pioneer. In the manner of the great Shehnai master Bismillah Khan, Kabra took what had previously been strictly a popular or folk instrument and through talent and persistence made it acceptable as a classical instrument.

This LP is somewhat of a sequel to the massively popular album "Call of the Valley" which since its release in 1967 has held the mantle of "bestselling Indian Classical album of all time." I doubt very much that reliable statistics are kept of album sales in India, but there is no reason to doubt the continuing popularity of "Call of the Valley" which is still in print.

"Call of the Valley" featured santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma, bansuri maestro Hariprasad Chausasia, Kabra on guitar, and tabla maestro Manikrao Popatkar. It was a concept album, supposedly following a shepherd in Kashmir as his day progresses, with appropriate ragas for each time of day. The general consensus seems to be that it was easier for Western audiences to accept an album with three soloists and percussion, especially as flute and guitar have been a part of western music for centuries.

This is a collection of Rajasthani folks songs, beautifully played by Kabra with sensitive arrangements by Y.S Moolky. Tabla by Fezal Quraishi (son of Alla Rakha and younger brother of Zakir Hussain) helps keep the music from descending into sentimentality.

The album was apparently reasonably successful and did manage to get a CD reissue at one time, but it is long out of print, rare, and rather overpriced on the collector's market.

Kabra has released at least a dozen other albums and I have four others  -- each one quite well recorded and musically satisfying. I don't have any of them on vinyl, however, so they won't be appearing on this blog.


Here is a video of Kabra performing Raga Shree at a house concert in 2003

Here is a video of a really lovely performance of Raga Malkauns, unknown date













high resolution file 



suitable for making an audio CD



for portable players such as iPod and smart phones





July 17, 2016

Ali Akbar Khan: "Bangla Desh" [CS 2042] (1972)

Here is a wonderful and long-out-of-print LP on the New York-based Connoisseur's Society label from 1972.

In explaining this record, we should probably start with 1905 and the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon. This was predominantly a practical decision to set apart Bengal (where the British maintained their administration) from the surrounding areas.

Later, in the talks running up to Independence in 1947, the Bengal border was kept, but the region was divided between muslim-majority East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan) and Hindu-dominated West Bengal.

Tactically, this was always going to place Pakistan in an extremely difficult position, with a large and hostile neighbor between it and a major province. When the inevitable political tensions between East Pakistan and the rest of Pakistan occurred, East Pakistan declared Independence in 1971 and named itself Bangladesh. Anyone interested in learning more about the history of Pakistan should try to find BBC Radio correpondent Owen Bennett Jones' superb book on the subject.

Soon refugees from East Pakistan began to pour into India. News reports were quite distressing to a Bengali musician such as Ravi Shankar who had more or less settled into life in California. The conditions inside Bangladesh continued to worsen as bad weather and famine made life extremely difficult for the people of Bangladesh. At a morning concert at Raviji's house in Hollywood, attended by friends and students including one former Beatle, he spoke abut his concerns.

This was apparently the impetus for the two "Concerts for Bangladesh" which happened on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. In the words of Sukanya Shankar in the liner notes for a recent limited edition release of that morning concert in Hollywood, "It was during this gathering that he [Raviji] spoke about his distress over the plight of the people of East Pakistan (later known as Bangla Desh) in the aftermath of Cyclone Bhola. Being Bengali himself, he talked about wanting to do something to alleviate the suffering. George Harrison, in attendance that day, listened and from those conversations the seed was sown for what would later become the Concert for Bangladesh."

In addition to various rock musicians, the concert also featured music by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, who were accompanied by tabla maestro Alla Rakha. One online source I have found suggested that the three musicians played about 45 minutes at each concert, yet the 3-LP set of the concerts only feature 17 minutes of music by the three Indian musicians. I wonder what might have happened to those other minutes of music.  Either way, I recommend finding a copy of "The Concerts for Bangladesh" not just for the Indian Classical music, but also for some fine performances by Bob Dylan and George Harrison. This set was a hugely selling album and is quite easily available (including, I am sure, on youtube).

This LP release is dedicated to the "courageous people of Bangladesh" and shows news clippings about the then-recent Madison Square Garden concert on the back.

Throughout the early 1990s, the Ali Akbar College of Music was engaged in an on-again-off-again series of reissues of Connoisseur Society recordings on its AMMP label which made it to 5 volumes. It never included this album and I am not aware of any serious current plans to reissue this or any of the other Connoisseur Society LP's from the 1960s and 1970s.

My friend Nels loaned me this copy. He once told me that this was one of his very favorite Indian Classical albums -- and that is definitely saying something because Nels' collection is quite extensive. He would play the LP, especially the first side, repeatedly.

Unfortunately, the tremendous amount of love showed to the LP has resulted in some particular challenges in terms of groove wear and some unusual surface noises. Quite a bit of cleaning up the audio had to be undertaken, but I felt it was more important that I try to make this particular copy sound as good as I could, because of its importance to Nels' career as a listener and student of Hindustani music.

Once again the stand-alone java-based program "ClickRepair" was very useful, especially with its "DeCrackle" feature and the opportunity to listen separately to the removed audio in real time and make adjustments so that no musical content was lost.

Side 1: Raga Bhimpalasri: alap (20:00)
Side 2: Raga Mishra Shivaranjani in rupak tal (20:16)

Tabla: Shankar Ghosh (who died just this past January)










Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: Ultrasonic cleaning for 20 minutes in pure clean water, followed by a quick vacuum drying with a VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.
Recorder: Sony PCM-M10 at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution

A few large clicks were eliminated one by one with the "repair" tool of Audacity. Next, the sound files underwent DC offset removal and were normalized so that peak levels were -2dB. The "noise removal" and "click removal" tools of Audacity were avoided because they remove too much musical information. The 24bit files were down-sampled to 16bit in Audacity and then converted to mp3 and FLAC using xAct. 



(these high definition audio files may be played on computers 
and some portable devices such as the Pono)


These can be used to produced standard CDs using CDR media)


(highest quality files for portable players such as iPod and smart phones)





July 14, 2016

Imrat Khan: "Raga Malkauns" [Stil 0107 S 74] (1975)

And here is another LP by Imrat Khan, this on the French record label Stil, which recorded both Western and Indian Classical music. Their relatively few hindustani and carnatic releases were all tastefully chosen and recorded and I fully expect to see them all up here on this blog eventually.

On this release, the Raga Malkauns is split over two sides, with the alap (featuring Khan on surbahar, a bass sitar) on the first side and tabla maestro Kumar Bose joining Khan (now playing sitar) on side two for several gats. The record cover implies that it was recorded live in performance, but no specific date or location is given, no audience noise is present, and certainly no applause is present at the end. Possibly what they meant was that the recording was done straight to two track live in the studio, with no editing and no overdubs.

That is certainly how I would have thought most recordings of this music to take place, but now I find that it is common for ICM musicians to expect to spend much more time in post production (editing out mistakes and even auto-tuning sections) than was spent in recording the original tracks. It seems the standard for some musicians is absolute perfection and anything less will not be permitted. I can't help but wonder if any of this newer generation of musicians are aware that their live performances are all over YouTube, warts and all. (I prefer the warts, personally. I am reminded of the story of the father of the bride who pulls his future son-in-law aside just before the marriage ceremony and tells him, "If you ever have any complaints about my daughter, just remember this -- if she were perfect she would't have had to settle for you!")

Side 1: Raga Malkauns: alap, jhor jhalla (Khan on Surbahar)
Side 2: Raga Malkauns: gats in vilambit and drut; jhalla (Khan on sitar and Bose on tabla)










Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: Ultrasonic cleaning for 10 minutes in water, followed by a quick vacuum drying with a VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.
Recorder: Sony PCM-M10 at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution

A few large clicks were eliminated one by one with the "repair" tool of Audacity. Next, the sound files underwent DC offset removal and were normalized so that peak levels were -2dB. The "noise removal" and "click removal" tools of Audacity were avoided because they alter the sound quite a bit. I have started using "ClickRepair" which is a stand-alone java based program which removes only clicks and other non-musical sounds. The audio which is being removed can be (and in my case, is) monitored in real time to assure that no musical content is being removed. The 24bit files were down-sampled to 16bit in Audacity and then converted to mp3 and FLAC using xAct. 















July 11, 2016

Imrat and Vilayat Khan: The Great Heritage [EALP 1308] (1966)

Imrat Khan is the younger brother of Vilayat Khan and is still alive and living at least part time in Saint Louis, Missouri.

This EMI album was recorded when they were still actively performing as a duo, with Imrat always on surbahar  (a bass version of the sitar) and sometimes on sitar, but with Vilayat always on sitar. This arrangement lasted for several years, until they had a falling out. What really happened is not clear, since I don't believe Vilayat's side of the story has been published. Imrat's version of the story is apparently that his older brother could not stand the increasing attention that was being paid to Imrat and therefore stopped performing with him.

Of note about this LP is that Imrat Khan performs an alap of Raga Yaman Kalyan on the first side, and on the second side Vilayat Khan performs gats in Raga Jhinjhoti along with tabla player Nizamuddin Khan. I would have thought they might play the same raga, but maybe for technical (or artistic) reasons we have this arrangement.

In early January of 2016 I was just about to upload this post, when I noticed a familiar looking LP cover at the top of another, better, more venerable blog. So I wanted to wait 6 months to upload my version.

This particular copy was loaned to me by my friend Nels. Thank you, Nels!

The vinyl is in NM visual condition with few obvious defects and the cover has been wonderfully preserved. One unusual aspect of this copy is that it appears to have been autographed by Vilayat Khan on either January 12 or December 1, 1986.

Side one: Ustad Imrat Kahn: Raga Yaman Kalyan alap (surbahar)
Side two: Ustad Vilayat Kahn: Raga Jhinjhoti gats in teentaal (sitar)

Tabla (side 2 only): Ustad Nizamuddin Khan










Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: Ultrasonic cleaning for 10 minutes in water, followed by a quick vacuum drying with a VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.
Recorder: Sony PCM-M10 at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution

A few large clicks were eliminated one by one with the "repair" tool of Audacity. Next, the sound files underwent DC offset removal and were normalized so that peak levels were -2dB. The "noise removal" and "click removal" tools of Audacity were avoided because they do not work well. I have started using "ClickRepair" which is a stand-alone java based program which removes only clicks and other non-musical sounds. The audio which is being removed can be (and in my case, is) monitored in real time to assure that no musical content is being removed. The 24bit files were down sampled to 16bit in Audacity and then converted to mp3 and FLAC using xAct. 



(As a reminder, FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. FLAC files can be easily converted to bit-perfect .wav or .aiff files and burned to CDR for playing on basically any CD player, whether portable or a home stereo -- just google "FLAC to WAV'"   In theory, the audio could be encoded into FLAC and decoded back to WAV and then back to FLAC, etc, hundreds of times without the slightest alteration of the file. I happen to use the program "xAct" but I doubt there would be much difference in various software since as a lossless compression app they should all have the same output.)










July 2, 2016

Rais Khan: New Sitar [Loft 1008] (1980)

This is an interesting LP recorded in Munich in March 1980 and which appeared on the short-lived label "Loft Records" -- not related to the current label of the same name based in Berlin. The 1970s and 1980s were a golden time for Indian Classical Music in Europe and especially Germany and Switzerland. There was a regular concert circuit and around this time Ali Akbar Khan even opened up a branch of his music college (still operating) in Switzerland.

Rais Khan was born 25 November 1939 in Karachi, which is now in Pakistan. He is a member of the Mewati Gharana and was taught (as is usual) starting at a very young age by his father, Mohammad Khan, who played both rudra veena and sitar.

Khan has not been recorded very often. This seems like a shame for such a gifted musician. I believe the first time I was exposed to his music was from  a superb blog post of a reissue of his first LP on cassette.

There are several wonderful videos on youtube of recitals and house concerts (see below).

Tabla maestro Shankha Chatterjee is a well-respected guru in the Farukhabad Gharana. Like Rais Khan, he is also relatively under represented on record. This is certainly a shame. He toured extensively with sitarist Vilayat Khan in the 1970s and was living part time in Europe at the time of this recording. He has many disciples and continues to teach and perform.


side 1: Raga Jaman Kalyan (18:55)
side 2: Dhun and Ghazal (9:42 and 11:10)







Here is part one and part two of a video of a house concert in California in 1989 the day before his first public concert in the US.

Here is the video from that concert: first set and second set.

A quick search of "Ustad Rais Khan" on youtube will result in a handful of fascinating concert documents. Youtube -- for all its drawbacks -- is becoming the primary resource for those trying to preserve Indian Classical Music. Quite a few archival recordings have been showing up lately. Check them out while you still can!


Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: Ultrasonic cleaning for 10 minutes in water, followed by a quick vacuum drying with a VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.
Recorder: Sony PCM-M10 at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution