West Meets East: The Historic Shankar/Menuhin Sessions
One would have to search long and hard to find an album that had more of a musical impact on the Western world. Imagine not even knowing what the sitar and tabla sound like! Yes, even in the early hippie era, we were that provincial. English violin virtuoso and musical ambassador Yehudi Menuhin traveled to India in 1951, where he heard the brilliant young sitarist Ravi Shankar. Shankar had heard Menuhin play in Paris some twenty years earlier. They became friends instantly. Menuhin began to study India's ancient and complex musical forms. Although they occasionally shared the same stage, Shankar and Menuhin did not actually play together until 1966. The following year, they performed before the General Assembly of the United Nations and then recorded West Meets East. The album was enthusiastically embraced by the public; it soared to the top of the charts and won a Grammy Award for best chamber music performance of the year. This album, a compilation from the duo's three West Meets East albums, offers Shankar's compositions based on ancient Indian ragas and folk songs. The album begins with Menuhin playing solo on "Prabhati," a languid alap, followed by a blistering cadenza with Alla Rakah on tabla. Shankar joins them on "Swara-Kakali," which begins in typically slow, stalking fashion. With Rakah's help, they explode into the main theme, tossing phrases back and forth with joyful gusto. Although purists will complain that the pieces are too short -- "a raga should last for hours" -- or that Indian violinists are preferable to a Westerner, remember that Menuhin's determination introduced Indian music and Shankar to the world. It would have been nice to have all three West Meets East albums, but this is a fine memento.