Concert Hall, January 12


Anoushka Shankar’s music is as mellifluous and luxuriant as her name, and she’d barely played two notes when I fell under her spell once more. As with her late father, Ravi, her virtuosity on the sitar goes far beyond mere dexterity. The sound she makes is like the glint of sunlight on water made aural, and she shapes notes so they seem to be made of consonants and vowels as well as pitches; so the instrument speaks to you in quite specific ways of love, sadness, yearning and hope.

Anoushka Shankar. Photos: Jacquie Manning.

Over her career she’s slipped between purist Hindustani classical music, more pop-oriented projects and hybrids of varying success. Her latest quintet represents a new pinnacle: a little orchestra ranging so freely that idiom becomes delightfully irrelevant, with Indian music, jazz and more atmospheric elements all in play, and the musicianship of a staggeringly high calibre. Rather than having the conventional North Indian Hindustani tradition’s tabla player, she has a percussionist from the South Indian Carnatic tradition, Pirashanna Thevararjah, playing mridangam (doubled-headed hand-drum), kanjira (small frame-drum of the tambourine family) and morsing (jaw-harp), and he’s joined by Arun Ghosh (clarinet), Tom Farmer (double bass) and Sarathy Korwar (drum-kit).

The thrillingly energised Secret Heart was one of several compositions to feature the striking combined sound of the ringing sitar and woody clarinet. In Her Name seemed to boast two sitars and two mridangams, such was the avalanche of sonic information flowing from them, and on Daydreaming Shankar was at her most lyrical, the sitar sighing and crying against the rhythm section. A highlight was Ravi Shankar’s Fire Night, reimagined into a series of solos and dialogues of scorching intensity and expansive imagination, lit up by Korwar’s idiosyncratic drumming.

The sitar was very slightly too loud amid what was otherwise exceptional sound quality, and some tiny flaws in tricky rhythmic unisons perhaps reflected that the band has been apart for three months. But I hope Shankar keeps this project going: it may be what she’s been looking for all along.