Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma
Realworld (

cd cover The Kashmiri santoor (Indian hammered dulcimer) pioneer Shiv Kumar Sharma, at 61, stands at the peak of a brilliant musical career and one need no further proof than this (I use the word judiciously) incredulous performance of a new raga, "Janasammohini." Sampradaya refers to disciplic succession and for this three-part, hour plus journey Sharma illustrates the process with his son Rahul and chosen tabla accompanist Shafaat Ahmed Khan. The three of them proceed to weave an experience that is exceptional even among the famously ecstatic and demanding ranks of Indian classical music and its makers. Each movement spans 20+ minutes, developing from simple, succinct musical language and rises stealthily toward a climactic plateau of harmonic density, accelerated speed, and finally both. Not one but two Sharma santoors and the blistering, full-bodied hand drumming of Khan accomplish this to dazzling, mind-soaring effect.

The first movement profiles a percussionless duet, suitably relaxing and initiatory. In the trios of the second and third movements, moments of three separate rhythmic voices, differing in pace yet still amazingly in step, are not uncommon, and build to shattering complexity. The santoors of the Sharma family are easy to listen to, especially in this lively presentation, where the tactile edge of the instrument shines as nakedly as its resonantly hypnotic voice. The ambience is as perfect as the performers are, right there but crucially leaving a warm round shadow in Realworld's medium-sized room, thereby averting sterility or deadness. The variety of ornamentation, rhythmic attack, and phrasing here is vast yet consistently, uncannily coherent. For the rightly prepared mind, capable of a deep undistracted 66 minutes of inner quiet, a volume-boosted audition of this will predictably yield a brief glimpse of perfection and a sustained orgasm of pure bliss. - Steve Taylor

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