Ali Akbar Khan: Swara Samrat

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Alam Madina Music Productions; 74 Broadmoor Ave., San Anselmo, CA 94960; distributed by Revolver USA; www.midheaven.com.

While the new millennium has brought more, not less, turbulence to many people around this topsy-turvy world, the music of Ali Akbar Khan, the greatest living master of the lutelike North Indian sarod, endures as a touchstone of tranquility. Indeed, "Narayani Gauri," the first of the two evening ragas that radiantly fill this new 75-minute CD, is intended to communicate a mood of peace—as well as devotion, joy, pathos, and detachment. Khansahib's steely and finely dynamic plucked melodic runs (and Swapan Chaudhuri's alternately bubbly, snappy, and explosive tabla patterns) effortlessly enter one's personal listening space. The alaps—slow, exploratory introductions—for "Narayani Gauri" and Khansahib's original "Chandra Dhani" are especially conducive to deep reflection. And the accelerating gats (fixed compositions with improvised variations) will lead you on complex emotional journeys.

Recorded in 1998, when Khansahib was 76 years old, and packaged with a handful of marvelous historical photographs from his life, this is concert music that can be appreciated on a variety of levels. While not putting himself through the blistering paces of his younger years, the maestro cuts loose with astonishing expressiveness at times and eloquently confirms his status—conferred upon him by his father and teacher, Baba Allaudin Khan—as Swara Samrat, or "Emperor of Melody."

Contributing Editor Derk Richardson writes about popular culture for Yoga Journal, Acoustic Guitar magazine, and SFGate (www.sfgate.com).