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Date: October 6, 1996 (recording)
Release: India Archive Music #1042
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I first heard of Debashish Bhattacharya from guitar master Nels Cline, who raved about this album on the “What I’ve Been Listening to Lately” section of his website. Cline gushed,

“What a find this man is! He rocks!! Besides his amazing phrasing and melodic invention (common among scary Indian classical players…), he adds some chording and fingerstyle to his improvisations with great effectiveness.”

Trusting Nels’ taste, I bought it cold, figuring that with a name like Hindustani Slide Guitar, it had to be good. Upon hearing the first few ultra-mellow minutes of the opening Raga Saraswati, I experienced a brief feeling of buyers’ remorse. In a snap judgment I thought, this doesn’t rock, this sounds like the spacey Indian mood music they play at the Bodhi Tree (an irritatingly Hollywood New Age megastore that sells such indispensable accessories as the chakra pillow, “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” video, and of course, the Tao-Sex Decoder). I lit some Nag Champa incense, picked up a magazine, and decided to accept the album as pleasantly exotic background music.

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Date: July 4 and November 8, 1970
Release: IMPULSE #228
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A mystical excursion into the realm of jazz-infused Eastern music by the widow and the disciple of the stellar John Coltrane. Spiritual and atmospheric sounds flow out of the harp and the piano of Alice Coltrane and the soprano saxophone of . The title track opens the album with dreamy intensity, establishing the vibe that pervades the entire recording. Cecil McBee’s bass is prominent, flowing hypnotically throughout, and his solo on “Something About John Coltrane” is breathtaking. Pharoah plays majestically and with great dedication, making this one of his most passionate post-John Coltrane outings. Alice divides her time evenly between the harp and the piano. She demonstrates her unconventional virtuosity on piano with the 9 1/2 minute “Something About John Coltrane,” putting a distinct avant-garde twist on the blues. On harp she reveals an imaginative ability to explore Eastern sounds on an instrument largely associated with Western classical music.

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Date: Jun 1, 1972 – Jun 6, 1972 (recording)
Release: Columbia/Legacy #63980
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An electrified and multidimensional burst of ass-shaking funk straight from the master himself. If Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix took a space ship to India together, they very well might have come up with something approximating On The Corner.

This utterly unique and unprecedented recording was savaged by a lot of the critics of its day. They blasted Miles for creating a new “anti-jazz” that fundamentally violated the genre’s integrity. Reviled as the jazz anti-Christ, his playing on this recording was indeed demonic. His trumpet spits out wah-wah distorted licks of fire and nastiness, and he grinds on the organ like it was a cheap date. He masterfully tangles and intertwines the varied sounds of the sitar, conga, electric guitar, tabla, organ, and electric bass to create thickly-layered rhythms of dazzling complexity. He throws in some heavy licks on top of it all, hitting hard with quick and punchy bursts from his horn that make the groove throb.

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Date: September 3-4, 1966 (recording)
Release: Atlantic #SD 1482
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“The purpose of art is mystery.”

—René Magritte

Not even relegated to the shadowy status of cult figure, Jamaican-born alto saxophonist Joe Harriott remains virtually unknown today. A key influence in the British free-jazz movement of the early ’60s, Harriott’s adventurous style earned him unfavorable comparisons with Ornette Coleman, even though he was far more boppishly swinging than his volatile American counterpart ever was. An unsung pioneer in the union of Eastern and Western music, Harriott began experimenting with Indian musical forms in the mid ’60s, incorporating its distinctive structures and rhythmic patterns into a jazz framework.

Harriott soon merged his working quintet with a five-piece Indian ensemble headed up by Calcutta composer, conductor, and violin master (he played in the London Philharmonic) John Mayer, co-leading this Indo-jazz “double quintet” until his untimely death in 1973. While the Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quintet certainly did not invent the mixing of jazz andIndian music (Ravi Shankar and Bud Shank were doing it in 1961), they were the very first group to use the term “fusion” in identifying their sound (don’t blame them…they only gave the genre its F-word name, not its derogatory connotation). Artists of the highest order, they were able to fully evoke the mystery of the East within a solid jazz context, a feat few contemporary jazz and world musicians have matched.

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Date: June 11, 1968
Release: PRESTIGE OJC-355-2
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Adventurous fusions of Indian, psychedelic, rock, funk, and jazz music by one of the great risk-takers of the electric guitar. Baiyina features fluid guitars, exotic Indian percussion and drone instruments, unique time signatures, swirling flute and sax, deep grooving bass, and in-the-pocket drumming, making it one of the most unique acid-drenched albums to come out of the late 60s. As the album’s subtitle reads: “A psychedelic excursion through the magical mysteries of the Koran.” Indeed, each track takes its inspiration and name from different parts of the Koran.

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Date: June 1970
Release: Douglas Music #ADC 10
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Surprisingly, this acoustic album was recorded at the exact moment when John McLaughlin was a key player in Miles Davis’ rock-influenced electric jazz revolution. While McLaughlin plays unplugged here, none of his characteristic intensity is lost, as is apparent on the side-long pair of Indo-jazz fusions, “Peace One” and “Peace Two.” Infused with the entrancing throb and drone of Badal Roy’s tabla and Mahalakshmi’s tamboura, these two tracks meld the rhythms of India with the virtuosity of McLaughlin’s acoustic guitar leads, creating deeply moving music of startling originality. Joined by fellow Miles Davis’ veterans Dave Liebman, Billy Cobham, and Airto Moreira, McLaughlin consistently demonstrates his abilities as both a player and a leader throughout the album’s five original cuts, particularly on the fiery “Phillip Lane.”

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Date: March 23, 1999
Release: Motel Records #3
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Bombay the Hard Way plays like the soundtrack to some imaginary 1970s B-films with names like Shaft’s Bad-Ass Pilgrimage To India or Ganges Ghetto Payback. Featuring the music of Indian composers (and brothers) Anandji and Kalyanji Shah, who wrote and produced soundtracks for the so-called “Brownsploitation” films made in India’s “Bollywood” during the 60s and 70s, this saffron-funk project is the brain-child of Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, Bay Area producer / remixer of Dr. Octagon fame, with additional beats provided by the immensely talented DJ Shadow. The end product is a potent cross-pollination of Secret-Agent-Man guitar themes, Blaxploitation grooves, jazzy horn and flute riffs, hip-hop beats and loops, and traditional Indian instrumentation.

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Date: 1968 (original release)
Release: Columbia #CK-9296
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East 6th Street in New York City is one of the stranger places in the city. There are about 15 Indian restaurants on one block. Barkers stand out front of the restaurants announcing that their restaurant is the best. The food at all of these restaurants is alarmingly similar; the joke goes that there is really only one kitchen in the back, spanning the length of the street. We usually go to a place called Panna II, which is unrelentingly garish: chili pepper Christmas lights hang from the ceiling in the hundreds so you have to bend down to walk. They play what is called “modern Indian music,” which sounds like old Indian music with a backbeat and electric guitars. It’s a music as garish as the decor. And if I haven’t listened in a while, it always sends me running back to Ravi Shankar.

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