Ravi Shankar And Philip Glass

RCA Victor, 1990

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


A meeting of East and West doesn’t get more exciting than on Passages. The collaboration between a minimalist music composer (Philip Glass) and a sitar player (Ravi Shankar) could yield myriads of possibilities, but nothing as easily accessible to the most casual of listeners as this one. Glass has toned down his longwinded, repetitive composition style to a point where even the album’s eight-minute long compositions are in fact woven in dense layers, not succumbing to his usual flair of rhythmically hammering one solitary note repeatedly. A middle ground is also sought by Ravi Shankar, who infuses elements of Indian classical music, mostly as a part of the greater musical landscape and not as a solitary force basking all by itself in the limelight.

Because of how the music is approached, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Passages is comparable to an experiment with world music by a pop/rock musician in that it looks for influences outside of the expertise of its eminent composers with the naïveté of a budding musician. It even makes Peter Gabriel’s Passion seem difficult and stuck-up. “Offering,” stripped of any Indian instruments, has a pleasantly Gothic saxophone and string arrangement, none too gloomy, but ironic in a “Six Feet Under” sort of way. “Meetings Along The Edge,” another track devoid of Indian instrumentation, has the strings pulsating with the rhythm of a Philip Glass composition and the aggression of an electronic cut while still being instantly catchy. Another “Western” track, “Channels And Winds,” with its Gothic vocals, is almost theatrical in its grandiosity.

One of the more traditional songs on the record is “Sadhanipa,” where Shankar’s sitar solo dominates the music with an accompanying Indian percussion instrument, the tabla. The haunting ambient trumpet intro and outro add a mystique to this relatively straightforward cut; they are only testament to the album’s enthusiasm to look for ideas that are far apart from each other and bring them together in blissful cohesion.

Although on most numbers, influences of one or the other – Western or Indian – play their part rather quietly, on “Ragas In Minor Scale,” they both play the lead roles, resulting in a beautiful jamming of Indian instruments to Glass’ rhythmic meters. This compositional brilliance comes to climax on the closing cut “Prashanti.” Running just under 14 minutes, this magnum opus of the album flows like a story being told, with calming music at the beginning that explodes into chaos in the middle, finally giving way to ethereal chanting vocals in Hindi that plead for peace, ending the track’s dramatic journey begging for harmony in this world full of ills.

How masterfully Passages brings together disparate elements to create a rich vibrancy without sacrificing a degree of simplicity that doesn’t require a highly-tuned and sophisticated musical palate makes it a record for the masses, and a work that is in a league of its own.

Rating: A

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© 2009 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Victor, and is used for informational purposes only.