Triveni - A Review

The 13th edition of the Citi-NCPA Aasi Anant festival presented Triveni – the trio, a musical concert in Delhi featuring Zakir Hussain on tabla, Kala Ramnath on North Indian violin and Jayanthi Kumaresh playing Carnatic style veena.     

The concept, conceived by Zakir Hussain, has already performed in various venues in India and abroad and is slated to tour Australia in June 2024. The just over one-hour concert is presented as a free-flowing movement of sound rather than a formally structured format of the main artist being accompanied by a percussionist. Zakir Hussain explained the concept in his introduction. "The vehicle we will use to present our music initially is raga Puriya Dhanashri (Pantuvarali in the Carnatic nomenclature.) Along our journey, we will stop and enjoy different flavours in the form of ragas and talas, some presented by Jayanthi and some by Kala, and then we will return to Puriya Dhanashri. We start with an alap (raga, tanam), and after some time, I hope the ladies will permit me to step in, too," he said.

Kala started with a brief introduction; Jayanthi succinctly took over from the note she ended with. The focus was on the journey, the raga, not the individual enjoyment of the journey. What impressed the audience was - the music that was neither overtly Carnatic nor North Indian in embellishment or structure. The softly flowing notes presented a seamless picture of the raga. Both Jayanthi and Kala synced harmoniously;     

At times, Jayanthi harmonised musically with Kala, while at other moments, she charted her own path that Kala followed. Both were consistently mindful of the overall picture, contributing to it without diminishing the carefully constructed structure. Zakir Hussain, a passive observer, clearly relished the atmosphere created by Jayanthi and Kala. After the 'teep' Sa had been touched, the gait picked up, moving to the jor and then the jhala section. Impressively, Kala held her own in the jhala, despite the constraints of her violin, her bowing adept. When she moved to the Sa in the 3rd octave, Jayanthi did not follow suit, though the temptation as a capable artist must have been great.

 Zakir Hussain joined in at this juncture; the composition followed the structure of a Carnatic piece in Teentaal/Adi tala. Interestingly, Zakir followed Jayanthi's music on the tabla in the interactive style of the mridangam while continuing to play an embellished 'theka;' with Kala. Each artist played short improvisations in turn, with Zakir joining in. The piece ended in an exciting crescendo.

Next, Jayanthi played a solo in raga Kafi, (Kapi), again common to both systems of music. She moved straight to the composition in Adi tala, tisra jati. The interactive aspect of the main player and accompanist was showcased most beautifully. Her second piece had a lilting gait – Adi Tala (madhyam), similar to 'keherwa'. Zakir excelled in his accompaniment here; the passages were racy and gripping. The duo gradually merged into Puriya Dhanashri again, with Kala joining in the finale.

Kala then played a vilambit composition in raga Bihag in Ektal, with the mood being mellow and reflective with long meends. This piece required minimal support from Zakir, and expectedly, he kept his playing unobtrusive. The next two pieces were in Teen taal, drut laya, and again in Puriya Dhanashri. The musical bridge between the two musicians was in the form of a raga mala, playing snatches of different ragas, each set of notes distinct and different. Nalinakanti and Bageshwari were played before culminating in raga Desh together, and then again seamlessly reverting to Puriya Dhanashri. One admired their skill in meandering into a set of notes, maintaining the structure of the raga before moving on effortlessly into something different.

Zakir played his solo in the Carnatic style with no instrumental accompaniment. He, too, chose to improvise rather than present structured 'kaidas'. Interestingly, Kala kept time for him in Adi tala rather than Teen taal. He ended with a korvai, at which point both ladies joined him on their instruments,  again in drut Puriya Dhanashri, playing set patterns, koraippu, in an exciting 'sawaal-jawab'. They concluded with a teermanam (chakradhar). Zakir, as usual, let the women take centre stage for the audience's applause, gracefully retiring in the wings.

This concert demonstrated that the basics of traditional classical music are the same in the North and the South despite the differences in presentation. It showcased music as it should be: as a composite whole, all players working towards keeping the balance and proportion of a carefully built structure. People often use the stage to show off themselves or their traditions. It's crucial to preserve one's tradition while acknowledging differences in elements like melody, ornamentation, structure, or rhythm. Delivering unified music to a diverse audience with varying musical preferences is a valuable skill. Jayanthi Kumaresh said, "We are learning so much about each other's music system in every concert. Weaving into the others' music and having a musical conversation has helped me grow as an artist. In every concert, Zakir Bhai guides us to try something new."