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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: 1975
Release: A&M/Horizon #0809
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“There is joy laced with confidence in this music, and sadness, or pathos, that is as much connected to the Blues as it is to the huge yearning of that sound in Eastern music… Throughout the record, one can hear the melding of Third World music and mysticism with Western instruments.”

– From Stanley Crouch’s original liner notes to Brown Rice

For Don Cherry, life and music were one and the same, and he consistently approached both with a daring sense of adventure. In his world-view, the art of living life and expressing life through music depended upon people “listening and traveling.” A global explorer, Cherry learned to play and compose for wood flutes, tamboura, gamelan, and other non-Western instruments.

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Date: December 19 – 21, 1966
Release: RCA 66551-2
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Before it spilled out onto the world, Duke Ellington‘s music existed in an inaccessible world of creative genius, a solitary realm deep inside his soul where uncharted sounds swirled wildly. His gift lay in his ability to move inside himself, explore, and return from solitude to forcefully express his inner musical visions. Duke was on intimate terms with his soul, and he understood how to conjure up emotional landscapes that could be felt by anyone else with hearts and ears. He didn’t simply commit his ideas to paper, but wrote out parts with the individual voices of his musical partners in mind. He knew how to get the very best out of saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves, how to push and direct them so that they could flower in the fertile realm of his ideas.

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Date: 1989
Release: Warner #25885
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“Without doubt one of the most beautiful and soulful recordings I have ever heard.”

Brian Eno

I Will Not Be Sad In This World is an album whose gently defiant title should become our mantra in these times of terror. In the days immediately after September 11, 2001, my stereo fell silent as the TV mercilessly blared out its cacophony of bad news, brutalizing us with images of a new world. We held the Medusa’s head up to the mirror, and refused to accept that the image reflected might simply be a human one. In an exhausting marathon, I remained glued to the tube, wondering what in the hell was going on, wondering what happened to love, wondering what I’d tell my children someday–if I lived that long. In the panic, I had abandoned music–my love, my religion. For four days I lived without it, not realizing what I was doing to myself, until finally I heard that first healing note. I turned to this record, and in a brilliant moment, found serenity.

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Date: November 17, 1961
Release: Rhino #1380
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If I were going to remix the CD release of At The Village Gate, I would add a faint track of a diamond needle hissing along a vinyl groove. There’s something about this recording that smells of cheap grass and whatever else Bleecker Street smelled like in 1961. You just wish you had an old hi-fi stereo system to play it on. Still, I’ve already ripped through three copies of At The Village Gate CD–I can imagine how many LPs I’d need.

This live disc was recorded before jazz clubs were like museums, before musicians were like curators. Listening to it, you feel the crowd at the Village Gate always evident behind the music, a low hum. The talkers in the club who came just to catch a drink on a felicitous night were welcome–their presence pulls you into the room.

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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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Date: February 8, 1968
Release: DCC #617
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Gabor Szabo is one of those gigantically influential guitarists whose name or music few have ever heard. Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Robbie Krieger, and Larry Coryell all seem to have spent some serious quality time soaking in Szabo’s hypnotic sound. Largely self-taught, Szabo‘s playing brilliantly fused elements of jazz, pop, Gypsy, Indian, and Middle-Eastern music, creating a highly mystical and totally unique style.

A refugee of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Szabo spent his formative years playing guitar in underground jam sessions in Budapest. His distinctive sound matured during an important four-year tenure in Chico Hamilton’s pioneering quintet, which also featured saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Two years into his solo career and deep in the midst of the late ‘60s music revolution, Szabo released his studio masterpiece, Bacchanal. It was on this 1968 recording that he triumphed in his experiments with feedback and Eastern-tinged psychedelic re-workings of current pop tunes.

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