Thursday, November 25, 2004

Pure Nusrat

The Ultimate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Vol. 1, Vol, 2

Before he became the toast of the West and was misguidedly lured into posh studios to record meandering fusion albums with well-meaning but culturally blinkered Western musicians, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan made some seminal qawwali albums in Pakistan that presented his sublimely intense and spiritual music in its purest state.
He was already recording albums, on which he shared joint credits with his uncle Mubarak Ali Khan, for EMI in the '70s. Many of these are apparently still in print, though this pair of double-disc compilations is really all the serious listener seeking to discover the unvarnished glory and essence of Nusrat's artistry needs to bother about.
There's something engrossingly elemental and visceral about the performances on these discs, which capture Nusrat and his party in a studio atmosphere that's totally devoid of artifice (there's hardly any trace of artificial reverb or compression) that you have to re-align your technology-tainted hearing to accommodate the revealingly raw nature of the proceedings.
Allowed to perform like they would on a regular stage, the master and his supremely empathetic accompanists marvellously harness the spirit of the moment in mesmerisingly organic call-and-response patterns that celebrate the power of transcendental devotion.
The first set, featuring selections recorded between 1978 and 1982, boasts the most affecting and absorbing performances. The melancholy 'Haq Ali Ali Moula Ali' is 28-minute-plus of breathtaking soulful majesty. Nusrat's voice here is such a cogent force of power and passion that by the time the track ends, you feel like you've had an experience of the deepest, most tranformative kind.
The more celebratory tracks on the set, including 'Ek Din Mahi De Ghar' and 'Kamli Wala Mohammad', transmit a different sort of energy, though they're no less stirring.
While the recordings on the second set, dating from 1983 to 1984, sound a bit more polished, they're as direct and potent as the earlier studio takes. But the programme, featuring such almost pop-inflected pieces as 'Tere Main Ishq Nachae', 'Menoon Yaar Manawan', 'Yaad-E-Nabi Ka Gulshan', 'Saiyyo Mahi Vichhar' and 'Mera Piya Ghar AAya', is less challenging.
The more streamlined songs don't offer as much room for vocal improvisations as the tracks on the first set.
Still, the master's voice transcends the sporadic mundanity of the material, making you hang on to every rousing, sonorously stretched phrase.
This is the real deal, so be prepared to fully surrender your heart and soul to the man for four hours or so.


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