Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 

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NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN

In the last few years Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has become a minor American celebrity, collaborating on movie sound tracks with folks like Peter Gabriel (Passion), Trent Reznor (Natural Born Killers), and Eddie Vedder (Dead Man Walking). In the process, his transcendent soul has been swathed in aural sweeteners to make it more palatable to Western ears, but his sublime singing cuts through such commercial concessions. His numerous traditional recordings of qawwali, the Sufi devotional music, however, allow him to develop his complex vocal lines more completely. As opposed to Indian classical music, which is more austere, qawwali throbs with gorgeous melodic embellishments, and Ali Khan's melodic inventiveness rivals his power and expressiveness. But no recording can compare to the experience of hearing him perform live. At his last Chicago performance, three years ago, Ali Khan's voice soared above the beautiful din of pulsing harmoniums, ornate tabla patterns, hand claps, and backing vocals in astounding improvisations. Just when I thought he couldn't possibly embroider another melody or phrase, he produced one more stunning than the last. Rumors about the decline of his health have been circulating lately, and for all of its charm the recent Intoxicated Spirit (Shanachie) doesn't feature lengthy flights as much as his other recordings have. So miss this at your own risk. Thursday, August 22, 7:30 PM, Bismarck Theatre, Bismarck Hotel, 171 W. Randolph; 236-0123 or 559-1212.

PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, by Jack Vartoogian.

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