Kayhan Kalhor kamancheh
Shujaat Husain Khan sitar, vocals
Sandeep Das tabla
Concert recording, May 28, 2001, Radio Studio DRS, Bern
Recording engineer: Andy Mettler
Recording producer: Kjell Keller
Edited, remixed, and mastered at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Kayhan Kalhor, Manfred Eicher, and Jan Erik Kongshaug
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
One cannot become full without first being empty.
In the presence of Ghazal, vicarious though it may be through the medium of a single album, things drain away. There is no excuse for distraction, no reason to hear this music as anything but a portal between states of mind and body. Kayhan Kalhor plays the kamancheh, an Iranian spike fiddle with a sound like the Byzantine lyra, and with it cinches horizons in a cosmic string game. Shujaat Khan plays sitar and sings. Khan comes from a long line of raga masters and has been featured on over 60 albums, though western listeners are most likely to have encountered him via Waiting for Love, released 1998 on India Archive Music. It is his deepest recording yet and one I was lucky enough to discover after buying it at a concert given by its tabla player, Samir Chatterjee. On the subject of tabla, one must acknowledge Sandeep Das, who since debuting at the age of 15 with Ravi Shankar has become one of the greatest living proponents of the instrument and who joins Kalhor and Khan in a timeless performance. Thus, Ghazal’s three sides blend two musical traditions (North Indian and Persian) with one purpose: to send you.
Recorded live in Berne, Switzerland, The Rain is divided into three long-form improvisations on traditional motifs, averaging 18 minutes each. “Fire” opens with a blush of sitar, a splash of sun on the well-worn path of the kamancheh’s tearful song. The expectation in Khan’s singing, indistinguishably potent through throat and string, marks that path with a mapmaker’s intuition. Khan’s voice is almost startling, providing that moment of satori on which everything hinges. Vocal cues are left intact, loosing the birds of Kalhor’s flights from their cages: signals born of moments yet predestined beyond all sense of time. In contrast, the tabla arises from the very earth, its skins mineral-rough against a backdrop of unforced biorhythms.
“Dawn” is a prayer for Kalhor, who awakens, stirring like the forest in early light and coaxing buds from their stems to broaden the promise of spring. His branches survive by means of their own photosynthesis, taking what they need from below to express themselves skyward. Khan’s singing spins air into filament, a thread without a needle unraveling from that seam where sky meets settlement. Such is the pond into which the stone of “Eternity” is dropped. Its ripples manifest a dialogue between heaven (Kalhor) and earth (Khan). The presence of tabla only makes the melodies freer, absolving words from their social sins. The fulcrum of this balancing act comes in the form of a chromatic undulation in the sitar that like a mountain is grounded yet untouchable, pointing toward the gaping mouth of silence from which it was born.
One cannot become empty without first being full.