The West Bengal State Music Academy’s 17th annual classical music conference (Rabindra Sadan, January 2-5) featured 19 main artistes. Apart from performances by Calcutta regulars like Ulhas Kashalkar, Ajoy Chakraborty, Arun Bhaduri and Samaresh Chowdhury, there were recitals by the two senior lady performers of the city: sitar player Jaya Biswas and singer Purnima Sen along with the SRA executive director Amit Mukherjee. The daytime recitals by Ulhas Kashalkar and the senior singer Pandit Jaspal of Chandigarh on January 4 and the Indian classical slide guitar pioneer Brijbhushan Kabra of Ahmedabad and the Bhopal dhrupad duo Gundecha Brothers on the second evening session were of special significance.
Though only about 45 minutes in duration, Kashalkar’s recital was of special interest not only because of the singers well-known ability to present the traditional khayal in its totality and the skill and artistry that has put him in the top slot of contemporary khayal singing, but the raga he presented. This was the rare Dhanashree of the Bilawal thaat in which the artiste sang vilambit and drut teental khayals. This Dhanashree uses mainly the notes of the diatonic major scale with a touch of the komal nishad or flat seventh. It is a difficult raga to sing as it is very close to the single-nishad Bihagra or Vihangara, Pat Bihag and Sawani. The raga itself is a curiosity in the sense that though an afternoon raga, its structure and note material seems to be more appropriate for the late evening. The only afternoon feature the raga seemed to have was in its top half that has some similarity with Patdeep and Barwa.
It was also interesting to note that the touch of the komal nishad came only in madhya saptak and not in the mandra. Apart from the expert elaboration of the raga, the taankari and the infusion of rhythmic variations into it were a real treat. The 10-minute drut teental khayal in Bhimpalas at the end was excellently sung with expert development of the composition, taankari and stressed, rhythmic saath-sangat in which tabla accompanist Anandagopal Banerjee shaped well.
The seasoned Pandit Jaspal is a singer who should be heard more often in the city performed on Sunday afternoon. Basically a singer of the Agra-Atrauli gharana, he has a high-pitched, rich and powerful voice and has had training from the legendary Ustad Enayat Hussain of Rampore-Sahaswan and Agra-Atrauli ustads Anwar Hussain, Sharafat Hussain, Latafat Hussain and Yunus Hussain. Though the recital started around 1.36 pm, the pandit opened with a vilambit ektal khayal in the major morning raga Bilaskhani Todi. Slide guitarist Debashish Chakraborty who performed just before him had already played Shuddh Sarang, the major afternoon raga. Pandit Jaspal’s impressive elaboration of the traditional Sadarang composition in Bilaskhani and opening up of the voice in the upper register with the typical Agra-Atrauli tonal variations, however, made amends for the time schedule violation. His taankari and rhythmic patterns were also impressive for an artiste of his age. He went on to sing compositions in Nat Bhairav, Brindabani Sarang and Shuddh Sarang.
Performing next, sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee displayed good technique and musical organisation but defective raga perception as he used the Bihag phrase Ga Ma Pa Ni Sa in his alap and gatkari in Gaud Sarang.
There was a clear sign of superior musicianship in slide guitar pioneer Brijbhushan Kabra’s alap in Yaman and vilambit and drut teental gatkari in Yaman Manjh on the second evening. The melodic charm of the phrases and their development in the alap and the rhythmic work, taankari and jhala in the jod and gatkari seemed to evoke an atmosphere that prevailed in the recitals of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in their heydays. The positioning of the phrases, the occasional melodic surprise and the rhythm-melody blending thrusts of the jhala were things to remember. He went on to play a dhun-ragamalika in Panchamse Gara.
The Gundecha brothers, performing at the end of the second session, sang alap and Dhrupads in Jog and then in Adana. The Jog alap displayed flowing phrase development and dramatic, though not traditional, juxtaposition of the two gandhars. The chowtal and 11-matra sultal dhrupad compositions, however, did not feature such juxtapositions. The use of the kom-al dhaivat in the brief Adana dhrupads was a surprise since this does not figure in Dagar tradition to which the singers belong.
Singing khayals in Jaunpuri at the start of the morning session, Purnima Sen impressed with her systematic exposition in the true-blue Agra-Atrauli tradition. Her concluding Bhairavi bandishi thumri was also good to listen to.