To fully appreciate Strings for Peace, an historic East meets West classical music summit between Grammy winning guitarist Sharon Isbin and sarod masters Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Amaan Ali Bangesh and Ayaan Ali Bangesh, the listener must know a bit about the stringed instrument.
Used mainly in Hindustani music on the Indian subcontinent, the modern classical sarod – which, along with the sitar, is one of the culture’s most popular and prominent instruments - is 39 inches long and has a slightly waisted wood body with a skin belly. Its broad neck has a wide fretless fingerboard covered in metal to accommodate sliding pitches, and four to six main melodic strings, plus two to four others.
Credited with reinventing the technique of playing the sarod, Ali Khan is so strongly associated with it that his website is not his name but the name of the instrument! Neil Sorrell’s illuminating liner notes which must be read in full to understand the exotic and hypnotic swirl of moods, tempos, string modulations and colorful intertwinings taking place.
He writes that in recent years, father and sons have engaged in more and more collaborations with musicians from other great traditions – and based on her multi-decade career, there’s no better string voice to showcase the classical music of the West than Isbin. In Ali Khan’s words, the four ragas performed as duets by Isbin with Ali Khan (“Romancing Earth: Raga Pilu”), Ali Bangash (“By The Moon: Raga Behag”) and Ali Bangash (“Love Avalanche: Raga Mishra Bhairav,” “Sacred Evening: “Raga Yaman”) engender a spirit of sharing the unique treasures of these artistic traditions, “as well as finding common ground in ragas and medieval modes.”
A constantly engaging aural feast to behold, the ebb and flow of the strings is fascinating, buoyed along by the seductive grounding and grooving percussion of tabla master Amit Kavthekar. As for how the music relates to the title, it’s not always literally peaceful, but it imagines a realm where cultures can discover common ground and create a more peaceful world, starting with music.