12.07.2006

Pandit Pran Nath - Raga Cycle: Palace Theatre, Paris 1972 (Sri Moonshine CD)


New Pandit Pran Nath disc? Awesome times. Well not really "new", as the album title would indicate. And since, you know, Nath has been for some time now. But there's probably a wealth of recorded Pran Nath material that's languishing in somebody (read: La Monte Young)'s archives so anytime something that's previously unheard becomes available, you have to jump on it. he favor comes to us courtesy Terry Riley and his Sri Moonshine label, who was also responsible for one of the few (only?) other Nath release available at the moment, "Midnight: Raga Malkauns". That's a double-disc costing $36 U.S. which is a little too rich for my blood at the moment but this single slice at $17 seems reasonable enough. Like I said, you take what you can get. And Sri Moonshine did a very tasteful job with the packaging, a glossy gatefold with liner notes from Riley and translations of Nath's incantations are a welcome bonus. This disc is culled from the first of three sets Pran Nath played in Paris over the course of a weekend in 1972, these being the night ragas I believe. It's also to my understanding that Riley will be issuing the other two sets on CD at a later date, so I'll have to keep a watchful eye on that. Nath was accompanied on all three dates by his American disciples Riley, Young and Young's wife Marian Zazeela. Riley plays tabla percussion while Young and Zazeela occupy the space with tambouras.
It's tough to compare the two pieces - "Raga Shudh Sarang" and "Raga Kut Todi" - to this disc against anything else since I've only heard a couple of MP3s from Nath and even then I haven't studied them extensively enough to a point of being able to tell you the subtle differences. Heck I haven't listened/studied to nearly enough raga period to be able to tell the difference. But on his website (and in the liner notes) Riley states, "One of the undeniable beauties of Indian Classical Music is its strong connection to nature and especially the binding relationship of Raga melodies to their appropriate time of day. An elegant curve of melody, a subtle lowering of pitch, or an assertiveness attached to a particular note help to define the effect of a Raga" so you'll just have to take his word for it. He'd know far better than I would, to say the least. All I can do is tell you that I know what I like and "Raga Cycle" wins all over the place. On the "Shudh Sarang" raga, Nath's unmistakeable voice wafts in at an almost guttural approach at first before slowly opening up to reveal the multitude of galaxies embedded in his throat. At the end of the day there are only a handful of truly "pure" sounds in music and Pran Nath's eternally unfaltering voice has to be one of them. It's rather remarkable to listen to both these ragas and get the feeling that Nath has more control over his vocal chords than many others do over, say, their guitars - nothing more than what is essentially a piece of machinery. "Shudh Sarang" stretches out over 33 minutes, with Young and Zazeela's tambouras adding a sense of ever-flowing continuity and Riley's understated percussion keeping you from floating thirty miles up into the mesosphere. Most noteworthy are the moments around the 20 and 30 minute marks when Nath strays from his awe-inspiring drawn-out drones and engaging in an almost rapidfire delivery, something I don't remember ever hearing from him before in my limited listenings, although maybe I just wasn't paying attention (or I was lulled into a deep sleep). At 12 minutes, "Raga Kut Todi" has a greater sense of urgency as Nath's voice cuts through the air and you begin to sense the first indications that Nath is indeed human, snorting and clearing his throat a couple times before delivering the next flawless pitch. Riley delivers his percussion with smooth, organic feel while the tambouras remain forever unrushed, allowing to the grand master all the space he needs to unfurl silky strands of throat technique. I can't help thinking that at 45 minutes the album is still too short, but then I guess it's on me to man up and buy the 2CD.
If you're at all interested in the 60s/70s post-and-pre Velvets drone nexus and all related parts, then "Raga Cycle" is an absolutely invaluable document, especially when such documents are so hard to find (or when they aren't hard to find, they'll usually bankrupt you). Kudos go to Terry Riley for finally bringing some of this music to the people, and with any luck it'll be the first of many more to come.

6 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

If you haven't already done so, you should hear his Ragas of Morning and Night. Yowza.

12/10/2006 10:58 PM  
Anonymous VK said...

Pran Nath was a somewhat unusual singer, both a bit of an anachronism and eccentrically slow — but for the life of me I can’t understand how LaMonte Young fans can, still after 25 years, see him as so special. In the 70s, of course, Americans couldn’t hear any other khyal singers, but today they’re just a couple of clicks away. You know, he was in with Young not because he was the best, but because he was available. ^^

At the same time that this annoys me, it bugs me that it does, because I should be proud and happy that you’re at all listening to (and enjoying, and idolizing) a khyal singer in the first place! I know.

Anyway, Sarang is an early afternoon raga and Todi is a morning raga. So you want to listen to them in reverse order.

About Midnight and Ragas of Morning & Night, the former is much the better album. One of the discs (both have the same bandishes, from two different concerts) is easily his best recording. Sarangi accompaniment, as on Ragas of Morning & Night, doesn’t really fit Pran Nath’s slow, sparse style ... it drives him to sing faster, denser music, which is not his forte.

9/11/2008 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, most of the comments on this beautiful CD and the artist deomnstrate massive ignorance on the part of the writers/listeners.
Clearly you have no scholarly knowledge of either dhrupad or khyal. Glad you l ike the music (both Pandit Pran Nath and Terry Riley have been my guides in learning Indian classical vocal music. Go back to school boys.

2/25/2009 5:10 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I'd rather come off sounding like I have no idea what I'm talking about (which is accurate) than go to school so I can come off sounding like an unbearable dickhead when I troll the blogspot universe. But I'm glad your scholarly pursuits paid off and afford you the ability to do so.

2/26/2009 3:00 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

Someone said that he can't understand why Young fans find Pandit Pran Nath so special with the availability of other singers just a click away...

I've heard quite a few of these musicians and none capture that ancient, macabre, sacred feel that Pran Nath so clearly projects each time he opens his mouth.

The spirit of Pran Nath permeates all of his recordings... I feel possessed whenever I hear it. Check out this writing from Henry Flynt on the specialness of Pran Nath and it might open your eyes: http://www.henryflynt.org/aesthetics/on_pandit_pran_nath.htm

7/06/2009 11:40 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

Also, to the original poster:

Track down the MIDNIGHT: Raga Malkauns album.

It can be found for download online if you can't afford it.

Those two performances are stunning. They are dark - one blogger somewhere else said they are "filled with the voodoo" - and they are infinitely deep. An unmistakable sacredness pervades both performances.

7/13/2009 9:39 PM  

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