The trancelike drones and intricate rhythms and harmonies of Indian classical music can beguile Western ears. The exotic sounds have about them a mystical quality that often obsucres the fact that the music is also emotional and worldly.
Ali Akbar Khan, the acknowledged master of the Indian stringed instrument, the sarob, presented a concert Saturday night at Lisner Auditorium that was mystical and trancelike but that was also accented by a dazzling musical sensibility.
Accompanied by Zakir Hussein on tablas (drums), he wove dense melodic patterns that were shaped by contrasting moods and feelings. The two musicians engaged in "conversation" in which the strident notes of the sarob mingled with the syllabic beats of the tablas, producing exchanges that were alternately humorous and introspective. The "evening ragas" (melodies) began with Ali Akbar Khan's quiet, searching solos, which were then picked up by Hussein's tablas.
The musicians were enormously expressive and their playing was the perfect fusion of technical and emotional power. Their music was pervaded by a sense of humaneness that was transmitted to their listeners, who roaded with laughter at the musical witticisms and applauded the daring instrumental tradeoffs. Indian classical music may aspire to a spiritual plane, but Ali Akbar Khan and Zakir Hussein demonstrated that it is also at home in an earthly setting.