Hariprasad Chaurasia's hauntingly beautiful interpretation of Raga Lalit probably is the best introduction to that raga for listeners unacquainted with Indian music. Lalit is a serene raga with a devotional mood to be performed at dawn, before sunrise. Most sandhiprakash ragas (to be performed at dawn or dusk) feature komal swaras (flat notes), which give them a certain dreamy, longing, even nostalgic quality. The scale of Raga Lalit emphasizes the minor second (Ri/Re) and minor sixth (Dha/La); it includes both natural and sharp fourth (Ma/Fa), but omits the commonly used perfect fifth (Pa/Sol). In ragamala paintings Lalit is often symbolized as the romantic yearnings of lovers being separated at the break of day, already longing for their next rendezvous. At dawn there is a very gradual diffusion of light from darkness. A good presentation of Lalit should emulate that. It is a transitional phase where the old is fading and the new is slowly emerging, where ignorance grows into illumination and spiritual rebirth, and the great transformer, Shiva, is dancing. The freshness of the awakening mind as well as the longing for what once was. Images like these are frequently being reported by musicians trying to describe the emotional core of Raga Lalit. When all is said and done, of course, everything turns on the quality of the music. Only the exceptional performer is able to bring Lalit fully into life. Undoubtedly Hariprasad Chaurasia is one of those. The indisputable master of the bansuri (the bamboo transverse flute used in North Indian classical music), Chaurasia gradually reveals the raga in all its nuances and subtlety. Throughout a long unmeasured section (Alap- Jor-Jhala) counting 36 minutes, the Master thoroughly explores the unusual scale of Raga Lalit. For my part, chills of enrapture break out already at the deep, long drawn opening tone which instantly establishes the particular mood of Lalit. It also demonstrates the incredible stamina and lung power of the Master, so typical of his style of playing, that Chaurasia attributes to his training as a wrestler during his childhood and youth. After increasing excitement throughout the unaccompanied section, Chaurasia is joined by tabla player Anindo Chatterjee for two gats (refrains to be improvised upon) that complete the performance. The entry of Chatterjee is spectacular indeed! Both musicians now join forces in creating ever more intricate and mind blowing improvisations for the remaining 33 minutes of the performance. If I were new to Indian classical music, this would definitely be the record to turn me into an aficionado. A glorious performance indeed!
Hariprasad Chaurasia is undoubtedly the foremost proponent of Indian classical flute music. His work rate and output has been immense, and this is reflected in the number of CDs featuring his bansuri. But he is not a studio musician or a panderer to western taste, he is to be seen and heard at many concerts and festivals in India, where he faces the informed and critical audience regularly, and woos them with his superb long raga performances. We are fortunate to have in this recording a lengthy exposition of one raga, Lalit. Too often Hariprasad's CDs are issues or reissues of short and comparatively shallow performances, but in this Nimbus recording, although it is studio-based, we can get a glimpse of a full performance of what is a beautiful but difficult morning raga. For more than half the performance we are treated to a leisurely examination of the character of Lalit in the unmetred alaap, followed by the jor, with metre but still unaccompanied. We then hit a highlight of the performance, a stunning entry by tabla player Anindo Chatterjee, who introduces the taal then gives a dazzling solo before Hariprasad takes up the the bandish in rupak (7-beat taal). Anindo is a superb accompanist and his crisp playing forms an ideal counterpoint to hariprasad's development of his melodic improvisations. In the final quarter of the performance a fast 16 teental returns us to more well-trodden taal territory for the expected fireworks of a conclusion which shows off Anindo's skill and musicality as well as Hariprasad's unique technique in jhala, with an amazing breath and tongue control over his instrument. A minor criticism is that this 1988 CD shares with some others of Nimbus Record's studio recordings an echoing acoustic ambience dulling the sparkle of the sound of both flute and tabla, but this is a small price to pay for an excellent performance.