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Ustad Hafizullah Khan - Khalifa Kirana Gharana

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Artist: Ustad Hafizullah Khan

Album: Khalifa Kirana Gharana

Label: Just Dreams

Review date: Oct. 19, 2004

The sarangi is a stringed instrument carved from a single block of wood. The player bows its four melody strings (it has up to 40 sympathetic resonance strings) with the right hand and stops them, not with the fingertips, but the nails of the left. The sarangi's malleable sound makes it a choice instrument to accompany vocalists; only in the latter part of the twentieth century has it gained popularity as a solo instrument. It's reputedly one of the most difficult instruments in the world to play, and the one musician I know personally who plays one, Fred Lonberg-Holm, confirms that to master it the way it's supposed to be played requires years of devotion. Ustad Hafizullah Khan, who died in 2002, played the sarangi the way it's supposed to be played.

The concert preserved on Khalifa Kirana Gharana took place in Oregon two years before his death; his accompanists (Rik Masterson on tabla and Rose Okada on tambura) may be Americans, but they get the job done. Determined to exploit the sarangi's expressive qualities, Khan takes the disc's three ragas at a measured pace. Curiously, on all three he forgoes the alap, a percussion-free initial improvisation, and launches straight into the vilambit, which is when the solo instrument and tablas articulate the raga's melody together. Khan does this with impressive grace and control, while Masterson plays quite deferentially.

If you're looking for the breakneck steeplechases and lengthy improvisations that are part of the Hindustani tradition, you won't find them here; instead Khan creates drama with succinct articulations of fluid, swooping phrases. Such subtlety means that this isn't the ideal gateway recording for neophytes – start instead with a hot-dogger like V. M. Bhatt – but if you¹ve already found your footing with the sarangi, there's a lot to appreciate here.

By Bill Meyer

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