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Live review: Anoushka Shankar at the Hollywood Bowl

September 21, 2009 |  3:12 pm

The daughter of Ravi conducts the orchestra in a program of traditional and modern Indian music.


Perhaps some credit should go to the Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" for the near-capacity crowd on hand for the India Calling! event Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl. A grand panoply of traditional and modern music, dance, art and cuisine, the evening highlighted India's seemingly limitless aesthetic varieties.

The Ravi Shankar Centre Ensemble's performance presented the classical and folk elements of India's fertile musical legacy using intriguing hybridized forms. Curated by Shankar and conducted by his daughter Anoushka, the orchestra played works that demonstrated the impressive diversity of instrumentation and vocal styles that the more traditionally based Indian forms can accommodate -- there was graceful and fiery interplay between sitars, tablas, violins and guitars, revealing a wide emotional and textural range.

Anoushka Shankar conducted the ensemble with exuberant precision.

The five-member Rhythm of Rajasthan ensemble whipped up a tough, romping set featuring percussion, strings and reed-like instruments. A resplendently clad dancer twirled while executing a series of tricks: standing on cups while balancing a high stack of bowls on her head, or bending over backward to pick up rings with her eyes.

The Anoushka Shankar Project presented the evening's most genuinely progressive music. The program showcased her virtuosic sitar skills in pieces that incorporated such Western elements as cello and piano and slightly overamplified kit drums alongside the standard tabla drums, the shehnai reed instrument and droning tanpura.

Shankar proved her mastery in breathtaking, complex scale runs through self-composed -- and in one action-packed, jazzy piece, perhaps Bollywood-inspired -- works that adeptly blended raga-related variations with non-Indian sources.

The visually spectacular Yogen's Bollywood Step Dance Troupe, which worked out to the "Slumdog Millionaire" theme in a tribute to that film's composer, A.R. Rahman, preceded Kailash Kher's Kailasa. That act, featuring the diminutive Kher and brothers Naresh and Paresh Kamath, specializes in Sufi-folk rock, a mishmash of traditional sounds and contemporary rock and funk.

Though the group veered a bit too far into an electronic "international house/pop" style (complete with wailing rock-star guitar solos), Kailasa found its stride in tunes stressing a satisfyingly deep-grooving tribal funk.

Punjabi artist Malkit Singh capped the night with a frenzied, almost chaotic tour through his chart toppers, many of which have been featured in films such as "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Monsoon Wedding." The crowd greeted Singh like a conquering hero, and he rewarded it with party-down hits such as "Tutak Tutak Tutiyan," the bestselling Bhangra song of all time.

--John Payne

Photo: Anoushka Shankar. Credit: Sean Masterson / For The Times